Mum who lost her sight from chemo reveals three worrying symptoms to look for

webnexttech | Mum who lost her sight from chemo reveals three worrying symptoms to look for

Lacing up her trainers for a 5am marathon training run, Kate Duckers takes a moment to feel a sense of gratitude. “On the mornings when it’s dark and chilly, and I’d rather stay in bed, I remind myself how lucky I am,” says the 39-year-old police officer from Cheshire. “To be alive, to be healthy and to be able to take on a challenge like the London Marathon is such a privilege and I will never forget that.” In May 2017, Kate’s world was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with an aggressive and rapidly progressing form of leukaemia called AML (acute myeloid leukaemia), which affects around 3,100 people a year in the UK and is most common in the over-75s. After suffering from symptoms including fatigue, unexplained bruising and bleeding gums, Kate went to her GP for some tests. “Initially, I’d put how I was feeling down to being a busy working mum, the bruising down to playing with the children or from the heavy kit I wore at work, and just being run down,” says Kate who has children Oliver, 12 and Annie, 10 with husband Stephen, 36, who works for the NHS. “It was a nosebleed at work out of the blue that made me call the GP. Not for a moment though did cancer cross my mind. I actually thought I was anaemic and would be prescribed iron.” Within hours of her bloods being taken, Kate was asked to return to the surgery where she received the devastating news that she had suspected leukaemia, and needed further tests urgently. “Stephen was with me, and when I heard the word ‘leukaemia’ I went into shock. It was so unexpected, and terrifying. We were sent straight to the local hospital for more tests and I remember crying while we waited in a private room, saying to Stephen to make sure our daughter Annie, who was just three at time, remembered me when I was gone. I was sure I was going to die, and leave my children without a mother.” More tests, including a bone marrow biopsy, confirmed Kate had AML and within a few days of diagnosis she began chemotherapy. There was barely time to process what had happened and come to terms with it,” she says. “Doctors explained treatment needed to begin immediately to give me the best chance of survival.” Between May and November Kate had four rounds of chemotherapy. “Each lasted seven weeks, and I had to spend that time in hospital because the chemo flattened my immune system, and I was very poorly and vulnerable. I was allowed visitors but only if they were completely well. If the children had a sniffle they couldn’t come. It was agony being separated from them. Stephen was signed off work and our families rallied around to help us, but I felt so cut off from normal life, and even when I was allowed home between chemo sessions, I couldn’t do much. The drugs made me sick and weak. Some days I could barely get out of bed, and at one point I developed sepsis and had to be moved to ICU which was very scary.” During her treatment, Kate lost most of her sight, a rare side effect of the chemotherapy drugs which had caused blood clots to develop behind her eyes. “A nurse woke me one morning and I couldn’t see her face, there was just darkness,” she says. “I had a tiny bit of vision out of the corner of my eyes but that was it. It was so frightening and nobody could say for sure when, or if, my vision would return. It took around six months for it to be restored, as the clots gradually shrunk. Stuck in hospital unable to even read or see my children’s faces, it was so isolating.” That November Kate was given the news she was free of the disease. She would have regular bone marrow biopsies for the next few years, but otherwise her treatment was over. She says it was a moment of mixed emotions. “I felt an enormous sense of relief and joy, but there was also a fear the leukaemia would return, and a sense of trauma after months in hospital. It took time for me to believe it was behind me, and that I could begin to look forward again.” In April 2019, Kate ran the London Marathon with her sister Laura, now 43, and friend Sarah, now 45, to raise awareness of AML and fundraise for the charity Leukaemia Care who had supported her during her illness. “It took us over six hours to finish it, and we raised around £9,000. After I crossed the finish line I swore I was hanging up my trainers, but now I’m planning to run it again this April” says Kate. “I turn 40 this year and there was a time when I thought I’d never see this milestone birthday. I wanted to do something challenging to mark it, so I’ve been training again, fitting it in around work and family life, and hope to run it in around four and a half hours. I’m running alone, but my sister is training with me, to keep me company.” Kate’s husband, children and parents will be in London to cheer her on April 21 and she knows it will be an emotional experience. “Other people with my diagnosis have lost their lives to AML, they didn’t make it home to their families. I’ll hug mine when I cross that line, and know how incredibly luckyI am.” Leukaemia Care (leukaemiacare.org.uk) provides a freephone helpline (08088 010 444) or you can email [email protected]

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