A lawyer has told of how she could have been dead within a week after her ‘gum infection’ turned out to be an aggressive form of blood cancer.
Jenna Ostrowski says she had made countless trips to the doctors about symptoms that included bruising, lumps under her arms, sore gums and severe headaches.
But she claims when she went to see her doctor in Birmingham complaining of a sore mouth, she was told she had a gum infection.
She says she was also told that it would take more than two weeks for an appointment to be available for blood tests.
Jenna’s gut feeling however told her there was more to it than a gum infection, so using her company health insurance she got a test done privately.
Terrifyingly she was told she could have as little as one week to live unless she received urgent treatment for leukaemia, Birmingham Live reports.
Within hours a private consultant broke the news that she had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, and she was referred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for treatment.
“I had recently come back from a holiday in Bali, and I had a gum infection that wouldn’t go away,” explains the 34-year-old.
“I also had swollen glands and lumps under my arms, so I was concerned that I might have breast cancer.
“But when I went to the doctors, they said the gum infection had just spread to my lymph nodes, and gave me antibiotics.
“He made me feel like I was being a hypochondriac.”
But when Jenna visited her dentist in July 2017, he was immediately concerned.
She was wearing a summer dress and he noticed bruising on her calves.
“He told me that he wanted me to get an appointment that day, and for the GP to call him afterwards,” she recalls.
“I’ve had that dentist for years, and I’d never had problems with my gums before. He was taking it so seriously that I knew I had to follow it up.”
But when Jenna went to see the GP he told her: “You’re giving me too many symptoms for a ten-minute consultation.”
He added that she would have to be referred to a “headache clinic” to discuss any headache symptoms, and refused to phone her dentist.
Jenna persisted with the doctor for a blood test. He agreed to give her an application form but the receptionist told her there would be a two-and-a-half-week wait.
“A few months beforehand, my mum had a cancer scare, so that was on my mind,” explains Jenna.
“Also my dentist had been so concerned I decided to see if I could get a test done privately through work.
“That weekend, my boyfriend Matt was best man at a wedding, and I wanted to put my mind at rest.
“So I went to the BMI Priory Hospital in Edgbaston and got a test.”
Using private healthcare cover from her job as a lawyer at KPMG, she got tested straight away.
By lunchtime that day, the Priory had faxed Jenna’s results through to her GP.
He rang her to tell her that her “blood results were very irregular”, and that she was being referred to a consultant haematologist at the BMI Priory Hospital.
There, she was told she had AML, an aggressive form of blood cancer where stem cells produce too many immature white blood cells.
She’d had it for around three to four months.
“They told me that if I hadn’t started chemotherapy within a few days, then I could have been dead within as little as a week,” reveals Jenna.
“I felt like a zombie. The groom of the wedding drove Matt up to see me in hospital that night, on his last night of freedom. I wanted him to still go to the wedding the next day as he was best man.
“Despite already being in hospital having been diagnosed, two-and-a-half weeks later I got a call from the GP surgery saying they could no longer do my blood test, as the nurse was sick.”
“I most likely would have been dead by then.”
For the next seven months Jenna endured four rounds of gruelling chemotherapy at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where she had to stay on an isolation ward because her immune system was so negligible.
Now, almost 18 months on, Jenna is in remission, although she must still undergo painful bone marrow biopsies every three months.
“There is no doubt that I would be dead if I had not had that blood test done privately,” she says.
“That is both terrifying and unfair in equal measure. It simply cannot be right that the only reason I am here now is thanks to the private healthcare I receive through my employer and that is why I am determined to help raise awareness.
“I owe the NHS my life, and I know it is under an ever-increasing amount of pressure. But I believe that GP training is not adequate. The doctor did not see the signs of leukaemia whereas my dentist did."
She added: “The problem is that blood cancer symptoms don’t manifest themselves as obviously as other cancers. In my case it was significant bruises, very bad headaches, night sweats, recurrent infections, specifically a gum infection and swollen glands.
“My GP simply didn’t spot the signs or share my concerns, but I knew something was wrong and so persisted that I needed a blood test, which I had to have privately due to the long wait on the NHS, and even that appointment was cancelled.
“It terrifies me to think how many other patients are out there in a similar position to me right now, and who don’t have the means to seek private healthcare.
“That is why I am so keen to share my story in the hope that the symptoms of blood cancer are more widely known.”
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