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One in three people with blood cancer had to see their GP at least three times before getting diagnosed and 30% of patients get diagnosed with blood cancer in a state of emergency



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A family's story of navigating the emotional, physical and financial challenges of living with blood cancer, by Amy Gannon

Cancer. It's a word most of us run from. It inspires fear. Turn the page, disengage with the adverts, switch off to the bleakness attached to the word cancer.

Perhaps it doesn't have to be like this.

Joel Atkinson and Amy Gannon (57246105)
Joel Atkinson and Amy Gannon (57246105)

One in two of us will get cancer. Acceptance is key and knowledge is power. The fight to find better treatments and earlier diagnosis is something all of us would benefit greatly from joining in with.

I never thought cancer would be so close to home. When we were trying to get help for the pain my partner Joel was in, he had multiple GP appointments with his surgery in Bishop's Stortford, trips to A&E and blood tests, but it was missed. If I had been more knowledgeable about cancer, if the GP had had more training in spotting the signs, perhaps the diagnosis wouldn't have been so terrifying.

One in three people with blood cancer had to see their GP at least three times before getting diagnosed. There simply isn't enough low-level healthcare training in spotting the signs of blood cancer. This needs to change.

Thirty per cent of patients get diagnosed with blood cancer in a state of emergency.

Joel has been undergoing tests on his liver; chemotherapy has stopped once more as his liver function has caused alarm. To monitor his cancer, he goes for weekly bloods, regular bone marrow biopsies and CT scans. The close monitoring provides a lot of reassurance and the team at Addenbrooke's in Cambridge are absolutely astounding.

But wherever chemotherapy is, there is a restless anxiety that goes alongside it.

For all the good that it does, for all the cancer cells that it kills, you know deep down that it is also doing damage.

Joel Atkinson and daughter Isla (57246107)
Joel Atkinson and daughter Isla (57246107)

We share the dream of so many cancer charities in wanting a breakthrough in treatment. We await the day when we can live in a world that can find an alternative to chemotherapy.

We are in this for the long haul. There's no quick fix for blood cancer unfortunately. As we have accepted this, we have grown even more grateful to those people in our life and community that continue to support us and help in our plight to raise awareness for blood cancer.

When we started out on this mad journey, after Joel got his cancer diagnosis, writing helped me so much. To process everything. To keep my mind busy and panic at bay. I promised myself to make some good come from all the bad cancer brings. We decided to share our journey. To use our experience and voices to raise awareness.

Last week, one of my poems that I wrote while Joel was in intensive care was displayed 'on the board' at Dollis Hill Tube station. It's very rewarding that my voice is carrying, and hopefully helping and healing others along the way.

I've always loved what 'on the board' does; it brings poetry into everyone's everyday life. A short sentence can flip your day, change the way you see things and improve your perspective. Everyone's fighting their own battles, big or small, and a little kindness goes a long way.

From talking to others in our situation, I think some people don't know how to react to cancer.

Amy Gannon's 'on the board' poem (57246103)
Amy Gannon's 'on the board' poem (57246103)

Cancer changes friendships, that's the sad truth of the matter – the heartbreaking reality that the old cliche 'you find out who your real friends are in bad times' is true.

Even though we are battling cancer as a family and can't socialise normally, it doesn't mean 'distance' has to happen. We are still the same people, still want to laugh and chat about all the things we used to. We still have dreams and want to exist beyond the illness that has limited us so much.

I guess there's no textbook way to deal with the situation. What I will say is people in this situation need support, need people to show up, turn up, message, keep some sort of normality going and provide a distraction from the challenges of day-to-day life.

Real friendship is walking through life together. Circumstances change, people get new jobs, buy homes, have children etc and your lives might go in opposite directions, but, for me, a loyal, genuine friend won't be pushed away by change.

Joel Atkinson and daughter Isla (57246109)
Joel Atkinson and daughter Isla (57246109)

It's important to surround yourself with supportive people. My inbox has been full of people who have read my articles and walked through the effects a cancer diagnosis has brought to their lives. Isolation is a real thing on this journey. My inbox is always open, we are stronger together.

For all the awful things that cancer brings, it has given us a new appreciation of the simple things in life. This battle highlights beautifully the wonders of everyday life, the little things we took for granted before, like a dinner with family, a holiday in the sun, a cup of tea with a friend. It has taught us to be truly grateful for all the little things that make living life so precious.

READ MORE: The consultant's words that made us think about how we spend our 'now'

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