Newbury mum who thought she had Covid symptoms diagnosed with leukaemia

  • Report by ITV News Meridian's Wesley Smith

A mum-of-two from Newbury who thought she had Covid symptoms was later diagnosed with a type of leukaemia.

Mary Forester initially suspected that her breathlessness, fatigue and bruising could be due to Covid-19 but was told she had acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) following blood tests.

She's now raising awareness of the type of blood cancer which claims over 2,600 lives each year in the UK, and has a five-year survival rate of 15.3%. It can affect anyone of any age.

In September 2020, Mary, 65, was working full time as an office manager when she began feeling fatigued and breathless.

She said: "I became breathless after only a short walk and at night I could hear my pulse beating loudly in my ears.

"When I tested negative for Covid I rang the doctor who prescribed blood tests, but I couldn’t get an appointment for another three weeks because of the pandemic."

At midnight on the day Mary had her blood test, she was woken up by a call from an unknown number.  

"It was my doctor – he said I was very anaemic and needed further blood tests. 'Can't that wait till the morning?' I asked – but he said no, they are expecting you at A&E now."

Mary drove herself to the Royal Berkshire Hospital where she was told she had AML.

Mary during her treatment.

Common symptoms include fatigue, unexplained bruising and bleeding and unexplained repeated infections.

Other symptoms can include feeling weak or breathless, fever or night sweats, and bone or joint pain. 

Fiona Hazell, Chief Executive of Leukaemia UK, said: "It is not uncommon that they (symptoms) might be explained as something else...

"It is really critical in a case of acute myeloid leukaemia that if you have these signs and symptoms that you don't explain them away, you go and see your GP because actually it's a very aggressive form of cancer and it needs treating as quickly as possible and the sooner you go and see your GP the sooner that that can be done."

  • Fiona Hazell, from Leukaemia UK, says it's vital to go to the GP with symptoms

Speaking of her diagnosis, Mary said: "It was a total shock.

"In retrospect there were some red flags, but they were all easily explained away.

"I had had a recurring tooth infection since late 2019, requiring multiple doses of antibiotics.

"I had fallen over in my bedroom in May 2020 and my knee had swollen up the size of a football, and my whole leg had bruised purple and blue.

"The breathlessness and fatigue had only set in shortly before, but with Covid around, it could have been that. But all these are symptoms of leukaemia."

Mary was told she would immediately need three rounds of chemotherapy and ended up staying in hospital for six months.

She has been in remission since March 2021 and continues to recover well.

  • Mary has thanked the NHS staff for looking after her

Mary is now supporting Leukaemia UK’s call for greater funding into leukaemia research, hoping to find kinder and more effective treatments for AML. 

She said: "I live every day with enormous gratitude for the care I received at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading and the huge support from friends and family. Life is precious and I am very lucky to have more to look forward to."

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