A man has warned others to get checked if they notice a “small but strange” symptom.
Graeme Clark, 29, discovered he had cancer when he noticed red freckles on his arms. He was also experiencing bleeding gums, at the end of 2017, and he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia a few weeks later.
Graeme had blood tests carried out by his GP and later that evening he received a call telling him to go to Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital. He said that he “prepared himself” for the bad news to come.
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The now 34-year-old, from Leith, said to Edinburgh Live: “When the Western phoned me, they said I needed to go to the oncology ward and I knew what that word meant. My wife and I drove in, preparing ourselves for the news. The rash – called a petechial rash – was a result of not having enough platelets in my body to stop even tiny knocks from bruising my skin, because my blood was unable to clot.
“The doctor told me that you’re meant to have between 150,000 and 400,000 platelets per microliter of blood and I only had 12,000.” He added: “I was given platelet support that night, a bone marrow biopsy on the Monday morning to confirm the type of blood cancer I had, then chemotherapy started that same night.”
Graeme’s diagnosis crept up on him during a time he says he felt normal. He had climbed the Munro mountain not long before and come back from holiday. The Scot says he now dreads to think what would have happened had he not been diagnosed early.
He said: “I had incredible doctors – I remember my consultant immediately spoke with words like cure and I took confidence from that.”
Graeme is now encouraging others to seek answers with their GP if they too have strange symptoms. He said: “My advice to anyone concerned about a possible symptom is to make an appointment with your GP practice immediately.
“It doesn’t bear thinking about what could have happened if I’d not been diagnosed at that point. Go with your gut if you feel something is wrong. Don’t Google it or sit and worry about it, put your trust in the professionals. Regretting doing nothing is so not worth it.”
Graeme’s treatment was rough and despite the confidence the doctors from the NHS gave him, his mum running into the hospital in a panic and having to take a year off work are two things that still haunt him. Defending the NHS “to the hilt,” Graeme says his treatment involved an initial two rounds of chemotherapy. He was then told he would need a stem cell transplant which itself required another bout of chemotherapy and eight rounds of radiotherapy.
Brother Jamie also turned out to be Graeme’s perfect stem cell match and the transplant went ahead on April 12. The treatment Graeme went through left him without a functioning spleen and he now has to have a tablet every day.
Graeme continued: “I had six months of intensive treatment, and I would say it was around another six months before I felt physically quite good again. I think you only get past the psychological stuff after the three-to-four-year mark. Now I feel great, and I will feel phenomenal when I get to April and can say I am five years completely clear.
“I’m physically the strongest I’ve ever been, carrying on the discipline I had around exercising throughout my treatment and right now I feel mentally strong. I literally have no health issues, other than that daily pill to deal with the fact I’ve not got a functioning spleen.”
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