May 18, 2022

A woman was told she was being ‘over-anxious’ after searches online suggested symptoms she had been experiencing were cancerous.

Clare Crossey, 35, a former care-worker from Lurgan, was diagnosed with cancer in February 2018 after feeling tired, unwell and developing a rash on her chest and bruising on her legs.

Concerned for her health, Clare began to look her symptoms up online and was alarmed to discover she could have leukaemia – she immediately made an appointment at the local health centre.

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Within two days she was being told in hospital she was lucky to be alive.

The mum-of-two’s life changed very suddenly when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia.

“I had a feeling in the back of my head that things weren’t right,” she said.

“The doctor obviously did not agree with my suspicions as I was given the number of the Samaritans help line, a prescription for beta blockers and told to make an appointment for the following Tuesday for blood tests. This was on a Friday and Tuesday seemed so far away.

“I described my symptoms to my boss and we thought perhaps I just needed a week off work as I was over-tired.

“My mother was helping with the girls, who were just five and nine at the time, and she was completely dumbfounded to find me having a bath at 2.30am on the Saturday morning. I had thought perhaps the heat would help with the pains I was having.”

Clare says she was further alarmed on waking to discover she had blood round her mouth as her gums were bleeding and she also found a huge bruise on her thigh, which was swollen.

She rang Craigavon Hospital and was advised to come to A&E where blood tests were taken.

“A short time after arriving at the hospital, I received a blood test. The results came back very quickly and when both a doctor and nurse came to talk to me. I just knew it was serious.

“I was advised to go to the City Hospital in Belfast right away and on arrival was met by a consultant and nurse who admitted me immediately and broke the news that I might have leukaemia.

“I cried and the first stupid question I asked was, ‘Am I going to lose my hair?’ My thinking was that if I lost my hair, the girls would know I was really ill, so I would have to tell them the truth.”

Chemotherapy treatment started immediately and Clare was told that had she waited until the following Tuesday for blood tests, she may not have been alive.

From February to September 2018, the young mum had intense chemotherapy and tests showed her bone marrow was clear of cancer. However, there was another blow in December when further tests revealed the leukaemia was back.

“I was devastated,” said Clare. “I was re-admitted to hospital where I remained for three months, staying in quarantine in a stem cell room while receiving full body radiation and chemotherapy injections.”

Clare needed a stem cell transplant. Her brother Darren and sister Alison — both musicians living in America at the time — had been tested and Alison was relieved to be a 100% match.

On April 15 2021, she went through her stem cell transplant which saved her life.

Unable to continue working Clare spends all her time taking care of daughters Lily 13, and Meabh, 10, whilst attending hospital on a regular basis for checks.

“I am so grateful to everyone who helped me, giving me more precious time with my girls,” she added.

“On the 15 th of this month, I will be three years post-transplant. I call this my other birthday, so I will be three. There is one thing I would like to say to anyone going through a cancer journey right now.

“You will have days when you are feeling sick, or perhaps feeling down, try to stay positive. Remember that no matter how rough a day you are having there is always someone worse. Allow yourself time to recuperate and let your body heal.

“The right attitude and support will see you through all the dark days.”

Over a quarter of cancers in Northern Ireland (27.9%) are being diagnosed through emergency routes like hospital A&E departments, according to new analysis by the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP), which is hosted by Cancer Research UK.

In the first study of its kind, researchers at University College London found that over a third of patients in England (37%), Wales (37.4%) and Scotland (38.5%) were diagnosed after being rushed into hospital. In Northern Ireland, which was measured using a different definition, emergency presentations accounted for over a quarter of diagnoses.

Barbara Roulston, Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager in Northern Ireland, said: “This is a worrying study as it confirms that too many people are only being diagnosed with cancer once their health has deteriorated to a point when they might need to go to A&E or rushed into hospital.

“This is concerning because cancer survival is lower among patients whose cancer is diagnosed after being admitted to hospital as an emergency.

“If we want to build a world-class cancer service in Northern Ireland, we need to ensure fewer patients are being diagnosed with cancer in this way. Despite the best efforts of its workforce, healthcare services are creaking under the weight of the pandemic, staff shortages and an overall lack of investment.

“We know that one reason so many people end up in A&E is because we don’t have enough staff and kit to test and diagnose cancer through usual routes.

“This is why we need to see long term funding for the recently announced ten-year cancer strategy for Northern Ireland. Without this there’s a real risk that cancer survival could go backwards.”

Dr Anna Gavin from the NI Cancer Registry at Queen’s University Belfast and co-author on the paper said: “Being a part of international research like this is vital for understanding how Northern Ireland stacks up against other comparable countries, but it also crucially, helps to identify where we can learn from others.

“As a result of this project, the NI Cancer registry now reports emergency presentation as a variable in the official cancer statistics. These figures highlight the need for better awareness of the symptoms of cancer to promote earlier diagnosis.”

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