74-year-old Preston woman waits nearly two years on cancer diagnosis after being told it was "just her age"
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Only for a routine mammogram, Julia Jones, who was 61 at the time, and has since been diagnosed with leukaemia, might not have been here 13 years later to tell the tale.
She had developed a lump under her arm and had visited her GP three times with her concerns only to be told there was nothing wrong and it was just raised glands.
Julia, who is a retired school chaplain at St Mary's Catholic Academy in Blackpool, told The Post that even before being diagnosed, she knew something was wrong.
She said: "I noticed a lump under my left armpit but I dismissed it for a few weeks.
"It then grew to the size of a golf ball so I went to my lady GP and was told that it was just my glands and nothing to worry about so I just accepted it.
"At the time I kept saying to my work colleagues that I was so tired and that the lump was really bothering me.
"Seven months later it was still there so I went back to my GP for the second time and was told the same thing."
Nearly two years later, still plagued with tiredness and the lump under her arm, Julia went back to the surgery for a third time only to be told it was down to her age.
She added: "The third time I went back I was 61 at the time and told my extreme tiredness was down to my age, but 61 is not old."
It wasn’t until a routine mammogram three months later that something was picked up.
Two weeks after this she had a recall to go to Lancaster and was told she needed a biopsy as a lump had been found on her right breast.
Luckily, when she put her arm up to be examined she winced in pain and, upon noticing something was wrong, the radiographer also took a biopsy of her left armpit.
What did Julia’s results show?
A week later she went back to get her results and was informed that she did not have breast cancer, but had in fact lymphoma which was a chronic lymphocytic leukaemia - a cancer that affects the white blood cells called lymphocytes which tends to develop very slowly.
She said: "I was referred to a haematologist in Blackpool and was put on watch and wait for a short time.
"The following year I had a chest infection and was admitted to hospital. I recovered well but shortly afterwards I found that I had trouble swallowing.
"I was referred to an ENT consultant and after examination I was found to have lymphoma in my tongue, throat and trachea.
"It was then decided that I needed some treatment. I was fortunate enough to be offered the Flair trial, which consisted of six-monthly doses of rituximab and three tablets of ibrutinib daily for six years.
"I have just completed the trial and the indications are excellent: no CLL in my bone marrow and only some residual in my blood. I am still receiving four-weekly transfusions of immunoglobulins and I have been infection-free for about two years."
Asked if she retains any frustration at how long it took to be finally told what was wrong with her, she added: "Not at all. Mistakes can happen. We are all human at the end of the day.
"I have a full and varied life and am now in remission and I try not to think there is anything wrong with me.
"Some people can live with leukaemia and not know they have it.
"I feel very positive as I am in good hands and medical research is always moving forward. The future looks good.
"I think it is important to raise awareness amongst not only the public but the medical profession, who may not be fully aware of the symptoms of the illness.
"If not many people with blood cancers are seen by GPs, it may not be immediately obvious to them. We all need to know what to look for and not be afraid to ask questions.
"My advice to anybody would be if you are not sure, if you're not happy, ask for a second opinion."
Charities Leukaemia Care and Leukaemia UK are emphasising the importance of GPs being supported properly to ensure patients with symptoms of leukaemia receive a blood test promptly.
They found that patients are having to visit a medical professional multiple times before getting a blood test and subsequent diagnosis.
In the charities’ recent survey of 253 leukaemia patients, only a third of patients reported being given a blood test straight away within 48 hours after first presenting to their GP with leukaemia symptoms.
It was also found that 15 per cent of leukaemia patients said they visited their GP more than three times before they were referred to hospital.
What is leukaemia?
Leukaemia is a blood cancer caused by a rise in the number of white blood cells in your body. Those white blood cells crowd out the red blood cells and platelets that your body needs to be healthy. The extra white blood cells don't work right.
What are the first signs of having leukaemia?
Common leukaemia signs and symptoms include:
Fever or chills.
Persistent fatigue, weakness.
Frequent or severe infections.
Losing weight without trying.
Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen.
Easy bleeding or bruising.
Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae).