By Genevieve Yates
“I know this appointment is for my son, but while I’m here, could I get you to have a quick look at my rash?”
A fit-in-a-family-member appointment. A while-I’m-here-it-won’t-take-long request. Always on a day when you’re already running late. Josie was a repeat offender – forever trying to get herself or one of her brood “squeezed in” with trivial ailments. A worrier by nature, she’d race in to see me at the first sign of a sniffle, and then think of something else while she’s at it. If the surgery offered frequent flyer points, she’d have had free air travel for years!
I gritted my teeth.
“We’ve talked about this before, Josie. If you wish to be seen along with your son, please let the receptionists know when you ring and they can book you…Wow, how long have you had this rash?”
“About a week. It doesn’t hurt and it’s not itchy but it’s spreading though.”
The purpuric rash was classic. The petechiae unmistakable. This was no trivial ailment.
I saw her again that evening after the preliminary blood results came back. She took the news surprisingly well.
“We don’t have the full results yet, Josie, but we do know that your white cells are extremely high: 140, over ten times what they should be. Most of these are immature and abnormal looking cells. Also, your platelets are dangerously low at 20. This is why you are bruising and bleeding so easily.”
“So what’s caused this?” she asked calmly.
“Based on these findings and the fact that your blood count was totally normal six weeks ago, it appears you have some kind of acute leukaemia.”
She smiled and shook her head. “Cute leukaemia? Thanks for trying to break the news to me gently, but I’m not stupid. I know there is no such thing as cute leukaemia – they’re all nasty.”
Josie discovered just how nasty leukaemia could be over the next year. Her in-patient treatment was protracted and complicated, and on several occasions her family expected that she wouldn’t pull through. Now, two years after the initial diagnosis, she is in remission and feeling well. Travelling with her and her family through this difficult journey has been both challenging and rewarding.
Interestingly, her anxiety levels regarding her health and that of her offspring have decreased significantly.
“After what I’ve been through with the cancer, nothing else seems worth worrying about,” she comments cheerfully.
She still pulls the while-I’m-here-Doc trick fairly regularly, but I happily let it slide. It doesn’t seem worth worrying about either.
Written March 2011 and first published in Going Places magazine, 2011.