Olympic athlete Dame Kelly Holmes has described the “heartbreaking” experience of losing her mother to blood cancer as she campaigns to raise awareness of the disease.
The double gold medal winner spoke out as it emerged that more than half of British adults could not name any symptoms of the condition, despite it being one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the UK.
One in 19 people will be diagnosed with blood cancer, according to the charity Bloodwise, while it is the third biggest cause of cancer deaths, killing more people every year than either breast or prostate cancer.
Dame Kelly described how her whole family was shocked when her mother, who she called Mother Dear, was diagnosed with myeloma at the end of 2014.
She had been suffering bad colds and pneumonia during recent winters, along with back pain but:
An X-ray at Tunbridge Wells Hospital in Kent, where she had worked for many years as a nursing assistant, showed she had broken ribs, which Dame Kelly described as “weird” as her back pain had been put down to her dog pulling on its lead.
Subsequent blood tests showed up abnormalities, before a bone marrow biopsy showed she had myeloma.
Her mother underwent chemotherapy and had a stem cell transplant, which initially made her feel much better, but she died suddenly while in hospital on August 7 last year, aged 64.
Dame Kelly said it was “brilliant” to be asked to be the official ambassador of Janssen UK’s Make Blood Cancer Visible campaign so she can make more people aware of the killer disease.
Describing the struggle her mother – who was 17 when she had her – went through, she said:
Talking of her childhood, which saw her live in a children’s home until she started primary school, she said:
Dame Kelly, who won gold in both the 800m and 1500m at the Athens Olympics in 2004, described how hard the bereavement has been.
Blood cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, made up of more than 100 different sub-types including leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
It affects more than 240,000 adults but patients often require more visits to their GP before diagnosis than with other cancers, leading to concerns that these delays can lead to patients being disadvantaged and having less chance of survival.
Dr Alberto Rocci, consultant haematologist at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, said:
- Rachel Townsend reports.
A number of short films featuring Dame Kelly and other people whose lives have been affected by blood cancer can be seen on the website www.makebloodcancervisible.co.uk.
The signs and symptoms of blood cancer Blood cancers, or hematologic cancers, develop when blood cells are not made properly and affect the production and function of blood cells.
Most of these cancers start in the bone marrow where blood is produced.
There are many forms of blood cancer including: leukemia, non-hodgkin lymphoma, hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
- Persistent fatigue and weakness
- Loss of appetite and nausea
- Unexplained weight loss
- Night sweats
- Bone/joint pain
- Abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent infections
- Itchy skin or skin rash
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarms and groin
- For further information visit the NHS website.