Mum's severe hot flushes lead to devastating leukaemia diagnosis
Last summer, Barbara Geraghty-Whitehead, 58, began to experience hot flushes and dizziness, as well as developing an ear infection.
The school inclusion manager, who lives in Cheshire, initially put these changes ‘to the back of (her) mind’, but after symptoms persisted, she visited her GP in September 2022 and underwent tests.
Within a matter of hours she received a phone call from her doctor, who expressed concern over a high white blood cell count and told Barbara that they were worried it ‘could be blood cancer.’
One week later, after further tests, the mum was told she has chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) and received the devastating news that the disease is incurable.
‘You say you want to carry on as much as normal, but from that second nothing else was going to be normal anymore,’ said Barbara.
‘I wanted to go in and for them to say, “No, it was a mistake, it’s something else,” but they didn’t, they said it was CML.’
Barbara started taking chemotherapy tablets that same day – and despite experiencing side-effects of fatigue, nausea, acid reflux, and a loss of taste, nearly one year later she has responded well to treatment and has been able to see her daughter get married in Cyprus.
But after nearly ignoring her own symptoms, she wants to encourage others not to ‘make excuses’, as ‘people need to know the signs so they can get diagnosed early’.
‘When I was first diagnosed, you don’t know where to start and that in itself is overwhelming, but the support I’ve received has been fantastic,’ Barbara said.
‘I still feel tired, there can be days where I can sleep for hours, and there can be days where I have a good day, and when you have a good day, you just make the most of it.
‘I think about [my diagnosis] every day and it is hard and I do get upset, but now I’ve just got to face the fact that this is the new me.’
Barbara said she has always enjoyed spending quality time with her family, going out for meals, travelling abroad, and walking her dogs.
However, back in March 2020, during the first coronavirus lockdown, she said she ‘didn’t feel right’ and started experiencing ‘a dizzy vertigo feeling’.
This sensation came in waves over the following two years up until the summer of 2022 when she felt lethargic and listless, and she developed her first ever ear infection.
On top of this, she said she was experiencing regular hot flushes, but she attributed this to the warm, balmy weather and ‘thought no more of it’. She also didn’t think it was related to menopause, as she had already been taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) patches for years to treat her bone pain.
‘I started not feeling right and I couldn’t figure out what it was, but I didn’t do anything about it – I just left it,’ Barbara explained.
‘Normally, I would be up and about, making use of the time that we had off during the summer, but I found myself just sitting around not really having the motivation to do anything.’
Looking back now, she realises she should have acted sooner – but on September 16, she bit the bullet and visited her GP.
Recalling that terrifying time, she added: ‘Everything happened so fast, it was just like a rollercoaster.
‘I think it was worse waiting for the blood test results because I didn’t know what type of cancer it was, whether I was going to live, whether I was going to die.
‘But all I wanted was to get the very first tablet into my body, as I felt like I was being eaten away because it was in my blood and your blood travels everywhere.’
Barbara started treatment the same day she was diagnosed, which she said was the ‘first positive move’.
Although she was told her CML is incurable, doctors reassured her other patients had responded well to the chemotherapy tablets she needed to take daily, and this gave her hope.
And thankfully, Barbara has also seen results, meaning she was able to fly to Cyprus for her daughter Jess’s wedding in July – an event she knew she could not miss.
Looking further ahead, she is planning a trip to New York for her husband Paul’s 60th birthday, who she said has been her ‘rock’ throughout and has done everything to support her.
Yet although she is adjusting to a new way of life, Barbara wants to stress that ‘if something isn’t right, no matter how small it is, just go to the doctors and get checked.’
She continued: ‘When I was diagnosed, I just started thinking of my family, because if you’ve got kids, you don’t want to not be here for them – that was the thing in my head.
‘I just thought, “I’ve got to do this, not just for myself, but for all the other people around me as well”, and I wanted to see my daughter get married.
‘She had booked her wedding, and I thought, “There’s no way on this earth I’m missing that wedding”.’
For more information and support, visit Leukaemia Care’s website here.
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