A grandfather-of-six suffered a range of unexplained symptoms before his “traumatic” cancer diagnosis. Yorkshire-resident Stephen Young, 72, had been experiencing nosebleeds, a rash, mouth ulcers, shortness of breath and fatigue for weeks But GPs brushed off his symptoms for other, less alarming conditions.
Company chairman Stephen recalled: “I had been to my GP about my constantly bleeding nose and was given a nasal cream.
“When I went to my GP about my face rash, even though I said I thought something more was going on because I was short of breath, the GP insisted it was classic rosacea and prescribed a cream and antibiotics.
“A week or so later I developed very large and painful mouth ulcers. The final straw came when on a beautiful June Sunday afternoon country walk with Eugenie [his wife]. I had real problems breathing and putting one foot in front of the other.
“In hindsight, perhaps we should have gone straight to A&E rather than going home.”
That evening Stephen emailed his oncologist as he had undergone surgery to treat prostate cancer in 2011 to ask if his current range of symptoms could have anything to do with the new hormone suppressant he was on.
The oncologist called Stephen the very next day to say he thought there was another underlying cause and that he would ask his GP to carry out necessary blood tests.
However, it took more than a week to eventually get a GP appointment at which blood samples were taken.
Stephen said: “As I was leaving the doctor asked if I would like to have a chest X-ray. I thought it odd that the doctor put the onus on me to decide whether I had a chest X-ray or not, but I knew that my symptoms included difficulty breathing so I said yes.
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“My daughter, Jody, took me straight to Harrogate Hospital and then back home where I promptly climbed into bed and told Eugenie that all I needed was a few days’ rest.”
The X-ray highlighted a major infection in Stephen’s lungs and the blood tests set alarm bells ringing in the haematology department at Harrogate Hospital.
However, Eugenie had already taken matters into her own hands by calling the paramedics and he was taken to Harrogate A&E by ambulance. There Stephen was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) with a FLT 3 mutation.
The disease was so advanced that he was told that he had just two weeks to live unless treatment started immediately.
Within hours he was transferred to St James Hospital in Leeds where he started his first round of chemotherapy. “It was touch and go whether I would pull through,” Stephen said.
“The medical team was outstanding but it was my wife and children who were amazing, helping me through the darkest days by sitting at my bedside every day, 12 hours a day, keeping my spirits up, interacting with doctors and nurses and keeping a daily diary of my progress.”
“Miraculously” he was in remission just five weeks later and discharged from hospital.
But at this point, previously fit and active Stephen had grown weak and had lost all his muscles and mobility.
So he focused on diet and exercise to regain his mobility and completed three additional rounds of chemo. He is also set to undergo a stem cell transplant in 2023.
His wife Eugenie undertook an 18-hour marathon Pilates teaching session in January to raise money for Leukaemia UK. Her JustGiving page is justgiving.com/fundraising/eugenie-keogh.
According to Leukaemia UK, AML is a type of blood cancer which can affect anyone of any age, though it is most common in the over-60s.
Common symptoms include fatigue, bruising or bleeding, and repeated infections.
Other symptoms can include feeling weak or breathless, fever or night sweats, and bone or joint pain. A blood test is the only way to conclusively pinpoint the disease.
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