Michael was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia after a routine blood test. After a period of watch and wait he had various chemotherapies and antibodies and an allogenic stem cell transplant. He nearly died from pneumonia before his transplant.
Michael went for a regular cholesterol check and a full blood count revealed that he had chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. After about 20 months of watch and wait he started chlorambucil chemotherapy tablets, which reduced his blood counts for a while. A few months later he felt tired and became breathless when running. One day he suddenly knew there was something wrong with him and went to the GP. A blood test showed that his red blood cells were haemolysing (breaking down) so he was admitted to hospital. Blood transfusions and steroids had no effect. Eventually an antibody called rituximab cured the problem and after three weeks he was allowed home.
He continued on rituximab and also had fludarabine and cyclophosphamide chemotherapy, which reduced his blood cell count to near normal. He was then given an antibody called Campath as preparation for an autologous stem cell transplant. After a while he had an abnormal reaction and the drug had to be stopped. A stem cell harvest yielded insufficient cells so his brother was tested as a possible donor and was a perfect match. Before the transplant could go ahead Michael developed pneumonia. Antibiotics had no effect so he was moved to intensive care and put on a ventilator. Having been expected to die, after a couple of days he rallied and slowly recovered.
Three months later he had the stem cell transplant and was in isolation for five weeks. He had several infections and graft versus host disease. Since then Michael has gradually recovered, his blood counts are normal and he is as fit as he has ever been.
Michael took early retirement during his illness but has continued to work part time and is about to start training as a Citizen’s Advice Bureau volunteer. During his treatment he also developed a melanoma on his face, which was excised before it had spread elsewhere, and he wonders whether the leukaemia made him more vulnerable to other cancers.