Mum felt ‘wiped out’ and struggled to breathe before leukaemia diagnosis

Spot Leukaemia urge adults to check for signs of disease

When Mary Forester started experiencing fatigue and “wasn’t herself” her daughter Jenny first put it down to the fact she was working too hard.

During the first Covid lockdown of 2020 actress Jenny Boyd, best known for her role in Vampire Diaries spin-off Legacies, stayed in touch with her mum over the phone.

It was while talking that Jenny, now 32, first noticed something was wrong.

Jenny recalled: “Mum had mentioned a couple of times how she had been feeling more tired than usual.

“I put it down to working hard and hoped with some time off she would start feeling herself again.”

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Once the lockdown was over Jenny was reunited with Mary, from Newbury in Berkshire.

However, she noticed Mary was much more tired throughout the day, having to sit or sometimes even lie down more often due to feeling “wiped out”. 

“It was a stressful time during Covid for everyone, and I thought she was feeling more fatigued due to stress,” Jenny said.

“I also thought maybe her physical fitness was impacted due to the gyms being closed over Covid, and her not having her usual routine.

“I remember mentioning to my husband that I was a bit worried about her.

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“But I tried to remain positive and would say to her ‘rest more’ or ‘don’t push yourself too much’.

“I remember thinking perhaps she was ageing, which made me feel sad and a little scared. In retrospect, I might have been in denial, and trying to diffuse the situation or downplay it to both of us.”

It wasn’t until a visit to Scotland in September that year that things started to feel very serious.

Jenny said: “We decided to go for a hike up Conic Hill to a beautiful vantage point overlooking the loch.

“Mum kept having to stop and rest to catch her breath. Towards the end her breathing was ragged and desperate, and she was sharply gasping in air.

“This was very concerning as she has always been very fit, and my aunt and uncle – who are a few years older – were not struggling at all. We turned back after reaching the halfway point as we were all worried.”

Once they were back home, Mary called her GP and was able to get an appointment for a blood test in two weeks’ time.

Jenny’s fears were confirmed when, following her blood test, Mary was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) – a rare form of blood cancer.

She was immediately admitted to hospital to start chemotherapy treatment.

“Visitors were only allowed in the ward for the first two weeks after Mum’s admission, and then another full lockdown closed it completely for the rest of her treatment,” Jenny said.

“It took so much extra strength from Mum to go through that time without having loved ones able to see her in person.

“She was in one room on her own for months at a time. When I think of the strength that took, I am in awe.”

Mary, now 66, underwent three rounds of gruelling chemotherapy before being discharged and has since remained cancer-free.

Now Jenny is backing a new campaign from Leukaemia Care and Leukaemia UK called Spot Leukaemia, which encourages people to “channel their inner 5-year-old” by asking themselves the difficult questions that could help spot leukaemia.

These questions include things such as:

  • Why do you have bruises on your arm
  • Why are you always too tired to play
  • Why are you always unwell?

Symptoms of leukaemia can include:

  • Skin looking pale or “washed out”
  • Tiredness
  • Breathlessness
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Frequent infections
  • Having a high temperature, and feeling hot or shivery (fever)
  • Night sweats
  • Unusual and frequent bleeding, such as bleeding gums or nosebleeds
  • Easily bruised skin
  • Flat red or purple spots on the skin
  • Bone and joint pain
  • A feeling of fullness or discomfort in your tummy
  • Swollen glands in your neck, armpit or groin that may be sore when you touch them.

If you experience symptoms you should speak to your GP.

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