Woman warns not to ignore symptoms after hot flushes lead to leukaemia diagnosis

Barbara Geraghty-Whitehead, 58, was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia in September 2022

Eleanor Fleming
Tuesday 12 September 2023 07:41 BST
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A mother who felt she was being “eaten away” after hot flushes led to an incurable blood cancer diagnosis in her late 50s has urged women not to ignore symptoms.

In the summer of 2022, Barbara Geraghty-Whitehead, 58, a school inclusion manager who lives in Cheshire, began to experience hot flushes, dizziness and she developed an ear infection.

She said she “put it to the back of (her) mind”, but her symptoms persisted – and eventually, after months of hesitation, she visited her GP in September 2022 and underwent blood tests.

Within a matter of hours, she received a phone call from her doctor, saying that they were concerned about how high her white blood cells were and that they suspected it could be cancer. One week later, after further tests, Geraghty-Whitehead was told she has chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) and it is incurable.

“You say you want to carry on as much as normal, but from that second nothing else was going to be normal anymore,” she told PA Real Life.

“I wanted to go in and for them to say, ‘No, it was a mistake, it’s something else,’ but they didn’t, they said it was CML.”

Geraghty-Whitehead started taking chemotherapy tablets that same day – and despite experiencing side effects of fatigue, nausea, acid reflux, and a loss of taste, nearly one year later she has responded well to treatment and has been able to see her daughter get married in Cyprus.

After nearly ignoring her own symptoms, she wants to encourage others not to “make excuses”, as “people need to know the signs so they can get diagnosed early”.

“When I was first diagnosed, you don’t know where to start and that in itself is overwhelming, but the support I’ve received has been fantastic,” Geraghty-Whitehead said.

“I think about [my diagnosis] every day and it is hard and I do get upset, but now I’ve just got to face the fact that this is the new me.

“I’m never going to be the person that I was before but I’m going to recreate the new me.”

Geraghty-Whitehead said she almost ignored her cancer symptoms and attributed her hot flushes to warm weather and “thought no more of it”.

She said she did not think it was related to menopause, as she had already been taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) patches for years to treat her bone pain.

“I started not feeling right and I couldn’t figure out what it was, but I didn’t do anything about it – I just left it,” she explained.

She added: “I never ever got hot flushes. Even though I was put on HRT patches, it was mainly for my bone pain, so I just put it to the back of my mind and I thought no more of it.”

Looking back now, she realises she should have acted sooner – but on September 16, she visited her GP and underwent blood tests.

Days later, on the day of the Queen’s funeral, she found herself sat in an empty hospital waiting room, preparing for further blood tests – and by the end of that week, on September 23, Geraghty-Whitehead received the news she has CML and the following minutes felt like “a blur”.

“Everything happened so fast, it was just like a roller-coaster,” she said.

“I think it was worse waiting for the blood test results because I didn’t know what type of cancer it was, whether I was going to live, whether I was going to die.

“But all I wanted was to get the very first tablet into my body, as I felt like I was being eaten away because it was in my blood and your blood travels everywhere.”

Geraghty-Whitehead started treatment the same day she was diagnosed, which she said was the “first positive move”.

Although she was told her CML is incurable, doctors reassured her other patients had responded well to the chemotherapy tablets she needed to take daily, and this gave her hope.

For more information and support, visit Leukaemia Care’s website here: leukaemiacare.org.uk

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