Eilidh-Ann Dewar is looking forward to her 40th birthday – and the future - after being diagnosed and successfully treated for a rare form of leukaemia in 2018.
The mum of one, 39 from Oban, is now passionate about advocating for the benefits of early detection as someone who acknowledges her outcome could have been very different if she hadn’t acted on her symptoms.
Eilidh-Ann, who had returned to work following maternity leave, noticed she felt more tired than usual and started to notice bruises appearing on her skin. Initially thinking it was the after-effects of pregnancy, when more bruises appeared five days later, she made an appointment with her GP practice.
The GP told Eilidh-Ann she suspected she had a blood disorder called immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) and that she’d need a blood transfusion that day. However, whilst Eilidh-Ann was at home packing an overnight bag, the GP rang to say her platelet levels were dangerously low and to go to her local A&E department immediately for further tests.
The tests revealed Eilidh-Ann had acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APML), and she was transferred in an ambulance to the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow that night to start treatment.
“I knew there was a problem with my bloods but when the A&E doctor confirmed my diagnosis, I felt like I’d been hit by a train. I went from the GP practice to starting chemotherapy at the Beatson within five hours.
“I’ll never forget being admitted to the Beatson and the consultant appearing in my room saying that I didn’t know a lot about her, but she knew a lot about me. She told me she’d looked at my bloods, she could see the type of leukaemia I had and told me it was fixable, but treatment had to start now. I was handed my first set of chemo meds in tablet form, and the IV chemo started the next day.
“The next morning the realisation of where I was and what was happening took a while to process. I’m still probably processing it to this day. The prospect of treatment, seeing others in the Beatson going through it, and the thought of my wee one being so far away was a lot to take in.
“But I was in the right place and from the start of my treatment until the end my husband explained it as short term sacrifices for long term goals. That was the mantra that kept us going throughout.”
Eilidh-Ann underwent four cycles of chemotherapy condensed into three months from May – August 2018, with spells in and out of hospital for treatment and recovery.
“Chemo was hard. First round I lost all my hair which I didn’t think I was going to be bothered about, but it turned out I was. It took me about a week and a half to look in the mirror which was crazy when you look back on it. The first round was hard going and I was admitted for five weeks as I had a horrible infection, round two wasn’t too bad, round three I experienced sickness and restless legs, and then for my last session I was a day patient.
“After the chemo I was monitored regularly, reducing from twice a day to once a day, to once a week, to once a month. I’m down to every six months now. At my most recent check up I was told there wasn’t a hair out of place. My consultant is risk averse, but he has said it would be unusual to see a relapse at this stage.”
Speaking about the impact of her diagnosis and life now, Eilidh-Ann said:
“I always had a positive outlook on life and luckily my health before my diagnosis was never a consideration. I’m probably slightly more serious in the way I approach things now but still enjoy life to the full with my family.
“What happened is always going to be in the back of my mind, and there’s obviously anxiety when a consultants appointment comes round, but it doesn’t impact my life every day anymore.
“Chemo has left me with sore joints and muscles which I’ve had treatment for and I have niggly pains in many places as a result of the chemo but I just view it as the new normal. There’s nothing I can’t do and if anything, my work life balance has flipped. I make time for the important things in life, especially birthdays of loved ones. I make a massive deal of them now.”
“I’d really like to have a profound collection of words to encourage people to contact their GP practice if they’re concerned. But it’s as simple as picking up that phone and making the appointment. It’s not going to make you feel any better in your head if you’re sitting worrying about it.
“You only have to look at the service I received from the NHS. I live in a rural place, my GP knew something was wrong and hours later I was on my way to chemo treatment.
“I know my story is an extreme case but I can’t think about what may have happened if I’d left it any longer. If you feel fatigued or spot unusual bruising, go to your GP practice and get it checked.”