Teacher 'stunned' to find out sore throat she thought was glandular fever was in fact leukaemia

  • Watch Julia Breen's report here

A primary school teacher from Sunderland has spoken about the shock of receiving a blood cancer diagnosis after visiting the doctor for a sore throat.

Bethan Cawley, from Roker, was told she had chronic lymphocytic leukaemia just before her 50th birthday.

Seven years ago, she had been suffering from a "terrible sore throat" she could not get rid of.

The mother-of-three insisted to her husband there was no need for him to come to her appointment, when "an over-zealous GP" had made a hospital referral - and there was "nothing wrong".

Mrs Cawley underwent blood tests and was told she had a type of hodgkin's lymphoma, before being formally diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

The disease affects people of all ages and kills 5,000 people a year in the UK.

Mrs Cawley enjoyed five years in remission after initial treatment and returned to work as a primary school teacher.

But a year ago, the now 56-year-old found a few lumps in her neck and in May this year it was confirmed that she had relapsed. She is currently eight weeks into treatment.

Bethan said she had 24 hours to 'get her head around' diagnosis before treatment Credit: Family photo

'I could not accept the diagnosis'

"Everywhere I looked there were adverts for Macmillan and Cancer Research," said Mrs Cawley.

"I just didn’t want to belong to the club. I looked well and felt okay and just could not accept the diagnosis.

"I put on a very brave face but every time I looked in the mirror I was confused. How could I have cancer? I read booklets, used Google, read other people’s stories. I understood what was happening."Ten months after her diagnosis, Mrs Cawley's blood picture and her CT scans changed dramatically.

She said a lymph node swelled in her neck and she required an emergency appointment at haematology. Her consultant advised her that treatment might be on the cards."Treatment was a relief, as something active was being done," she added.

"Chemo wasn’t without its ups and downs and a new vocabulary came to be, neutropenia being the bane of my life! Life became small and confining but it felt positive, as after the first round my lymph nodes had gone down substantially.

"It felt like a real fight but in a positive way. ‘I can do this’ was my mantra. I felt determined."

Mrs Cawley said the symptoms of leukaemia are so similar to other issues especially that of menopause in women.

She said: "It is also so easy to ignore the signs and put them down to other things, or even make excuses for them. Being aware of a whole picture can prompt people to go and seek advice."

Blood cancer is the fifth most common cancer and third deadliest. 

The four most widely reported symptoms of blood cancer are:

  • Fatigue

  • Bruising

  • Unusual bleeding

  • Repeated infections

Other symptoms include night sweats, shortness of breath or joint pain.

Research revealed that only 1% of people surveyed in the North East were able to identify all four symptoms.

Almost 30 people are diagnosed with leukaemia every day in the UK and the overall survival rate stands at just over 50% - making it one of the most deadly forms of cancer.

A recent public survey by leukaemia charities Leukaemia UK and Leukaemia Care found that over that two fifths (40%) of respondents from the region could not recognise any of the four most widely reported symptoms of the disease.

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