Bansri Dhokia, from Ealing, west London, says her acute lymphoblastic leukaemia was only picked up on her fifth blood test and she was so ill doctors sent an ambulance straight to her house
A woman found out her three-month period was actually a sign she had a rare form of cancer which was totally missed during four blood tests.
Bansri Dhokia, from Ealing, west London, was only diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia after a fifth test was carried out.
The 30-year-old was suffering from fatigue and breathlessness and after a period which lasted for 12 weeks knew something was really wrong.
By the time it was picked up on the fifth test, she was so ill doctors sent an ambulance to her house to rush her to hospital.
Her symptoms started in May 2020 but initially, she thought it was just due to managing her busy job as a business analyst at the height of the pandemic.
“I really noticed the fatigue first,” she said. “I could sleep for 12 hours a night and still feel exhausted.
“Then I started to get breathless all the time. There were activities like climbing stairs or walking down the road that I used to find easy but was suddenly finding more difficult.
“I blamed it on being overworked. With blood cancer, the symptoms are often quite vague and hard to diagnose.”
She had what she called a ‘very heavy’ period, lasting for three months, which she says was out of character for her body’s menstrual cycle.
Bansri made repeated trips to the doctor to find out what was wrong – but kept being pushed back.
She said: “I just knew something wasn’t right and repeatedly asked for blood tests.
“I did think it would be something like anaemia or low thyroid function that could be treated with medication.”
The first four blood tests between May and July came back clear and by the time she had a fifth on 21 July, she was starting to get fed up.
Busy with work, she almost missed the appointment but luckily her husband Amrit Sagoo encouraged her to go.
Taken to The Royal London hospital, Bansri wasn’t told that doctors suspected she had blood cancer until after a bone marrow biopsy to diagnose exactly what type.
The horrific news then came – she had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
She said: “One of the first things I asked was if that meant I had cancer. I didn’t know much about leukaemia.
“I was really scared for my life. I had no idea what the prognosis was. I just cried and I kept questioning why this was happening to me.”
The patient was forced to start chemotherapy straight away due to the aggressive form of cancer.
And with lockdown restrictions still in place, Bansri wasn’t able to tell any of her friends and family about her diagnosis in person.
She said: “I had to tell them over zoom. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
“I asked my sister to gather my family in the living room. We are very close and I could not look at her because I just couldn’t deal with seeing the sadness in her face.”
Bansri also wasn’t allowed to go home or to see any visitors for the first eight weeks.
She said: “I think that has really impacted my mental health and recently I have started to see a therapist. In hospital, you aren’t given much emotional support.
“With such a difficult year, all I wanted was to be around my friends and a family.”
She ended up having three rounds of chemotherapy, which heartbreakingly caused her to lose her hair.
She said: “I’d always had long hair and I was growing it as we were planning to have Hindu and Sikh religious wedding ceremonies in 2020, after our civil wedding the year before.
“It was so upsetting seeing pieces of my hair fall out on my pillow.
“One day I just asked the nurse to shave my head, and in that moment, I felt really empowered.”
The chemotherapy put her into remission but as the type of leukaemia she had was very aggressive, Bansri was advised to have a stem cell transplant to reduce the risk of it coming back.
The transplant took place in February 2021 and although it is currently working, Bansri remains high risk for two years and needs regular check ups.
She is taking it one day at a time and continues to get stronger as the months go on, hoping to eventually return to work.