By Chris Hill, Horncastle Store Manager

I’m a Store Manager and dad to two young children. I have a demanding job, a long commute and life is busy. So when I felt tired in November no wonder I thought “I work hard so of course I’m tired”. But looking back, there were other subtle indications that all wasn’t well.

Along with increased tiredness, I’d been suffering from severe muscle cramps in my legs thoughout most of the year. And then in November 2020, I suddently developed an attack of gout in my foot. A bit of research into the causes of gout and I thought it was probably caused by poor diet and too much alcohol during the two weeks annual leave I’d just had. But again, no real concerns – after all, I’m young and heathy right?

The gout was cured within 24 hours and I considered that unpleasant episode over with. But first, my GP had asked me to get a blood test, just to make sure the gout wasn’t caused by anything more serious such as a kidney issue. Now, I’m someone who generally puts off going to the doctors unless I absolutely have to. And as my appointment was on a busy Monday morning, 40 miles away, and difficult to arrange due to coronavirus restrictions, I seriously considered cancelling the appointment.

I didn’t though, something made me go through with it. I had the blood test at 11am and went back to work on the late shift. At 5.30pm I received a phone call. It was my GP telling me that my blood results were worrying and that it looked like I had Leukaemia.

My GP ordered me to go straight to hospital where they were waiting to admit me and complete my diagnosis. “But I can’t leave now I’ve got a shop to run” was my initial response, which drew a rather robust response from the GP. Needless to say he convinced me to drop everything and I left for the hospital.

The next 36 hours were surreal. The morning after arriving at hospital I had a multitude of scans, tests and examinations, and later that day I was informed I had Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML). A rare form of blood cancer that occurs following a mutation in one of the body’s chromosomes. Just 24 hours later, I was back home and had begun treatment through chemotherapy. 

Thankfully in the last 15 years CML treatment has been revolutionized. The condition remains incurable, but thanks to a new range of drugs known as ‘tyrosine kinase inhibitors’, it’s moved away from being terminal – with an average survival of 2-5 years – to one that can usually be kept in the chronic phase and be lived with for a normal life span. 

With me being fairly young, diagnosed early and otherwise healthy, my outlook with this disease is very optimistic. I’m pleased to say my body has responded well to treatment, and although I will be on this form of chemotherapy for life, it’s certainly better than the alternatives that may have been facing me had I allowed my condition to deteriorate. After 6 months of treatment and shielding, I returned to work in April.

Why is it important to get checked?

As with most serious illnesses, time is a valuable asset. Early diagnosis can greatly increase treatment options and reduce the risk to life from illnesses such as cancer. For CML there are three phases, Chronic, Accelerated and Blast, and the risk of death increases as the disease progresses. Treatment would have been a lot more difficult and gruelling on me had I been diagnosed later in the Accelerated or Blast phases. 

It’s easy to ignore or misdiagnose symptoms and take the attitude so many have that it “can’t happen to me”…unfortunately I’ve learnt that it can happen!  My family and I are so grateful that my GP had the awareness to send me for a blood test and that I actually went through with it. Things would have been different if I hadn’t.

What would you say to other colleagues who are worried or reluctant to go for checks?

It’s so important you listen to your body. Looking back there were clues about my health that although hard to spot were still there. I recognise now that I was avoiding asking myself a question I might not like the answer to.

Even now I get anxious around my hospital appointments, I worry that each time I go for a test it could be the time they tell me that my body has stopped responding to the treatment, but of course I must still go. It might feel easier at that moment to take the easy route and ignore a problem but in the long run – if the worst happens – it’s vital you access the correct medical advice and treatment as quickly as possible.

Support

For this year’s Men’s Health Week, we’ve provided a resource pack which offers help and support on a range of issues you may experience.

The pack provides information on some of the main issues men may face, including:

  • Sexual health
  • Prostate and testicular health
  • Mental health/stress
  • General wellbeing

There’s also a list of contacts at the end of the pack that can help provide further support if you need it.