WHEN teacher Matt Meads started suffering with stomach pains, night sweats and tiredness – he quickly dismissed it as end of school year fatigue.
He was fit and healthy, and avoided drinking and smoking.
But just three weeks after first falling ill, Matt died – aged just 33 – and after just three chemo sessions.
He and his wife Abi were devastated when they discovered his symptoms were actually a sign of leukaemia.
Heartbroken Abi, 27, from Nottingham, is now sharing his story to raise awareness and to urge others to be vigilant for signs of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a rare and aggressive form of blood cancer.
“I’ve got so many people around me offering help and support but I still feel really lonely because I’ve lost my best mate, my husband, my soulmate,” Abi said.
It comes as blood cancer charity Bloodwise warns thousands of people are dying of the disease because it’s diagnosed too late.
Matt and Abi first suspected something was wrong on July 6, when he began feeling more and more fatigued.
And when he started vomiting to the point of being unable to keep ice cubes down, Abi urged him to go to the doctor.
At first he was told by his GP he had gastroenteritis or constipation but he soon returned to the hospital for a second time where they did a blood test.
Abi, who works as a teacher too, said: “Obviously I wish it was spotted sooner.
“I don’t feel any anger towards to the hospital.
“I genuinely believe they did everything they could for him.
“He would say he was feeling sick.
“He would send a text saying he wasn’t feeling well so was going to bed. I was out with some friends.
“He said something about feeling hot as well, but we didn’t put that down to anything because it was the middle of summer and everyone was feeling hot.
“He was sleeping a lot, particularly at weekends which he would spend mostly asleep.
“But we’re both teachers, it was coming up to the end of the school year and we had both got a lot of work on.
“We put it down to the job, and just tried to keep going because we had five weeks off soon.
“We thought it was the usual fatigue that we feel at the end of the year.
“There were sickness bugs going around at both of our schools so it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
“He was referred to A&E for the second time thinking it was gallstones.
I’ve got so many people around me offering help and support but I still feel really lonely because I’ve lost my best mate, my husband, my soulmate
“They did some blood tests on him, sent him for a CT scan. The doctor came back and basically said that it was leukaemia.”
Despite the devastating diagnosis, Abi said her brave husband remained positive as he came to terms with what was really happening.
She added: “Matt was a really positive person and was always somebody who believed what would be would be, it is what it is and all that stuff.
“So when the doctor told him he was quite composed.
“He didn’t really give anything away about what he was feeling.
“It was obviously a massive shock for him but he didn’t really respond in the way I would have done. He was listening to the doctor.
“The doctor actually stopped at one point because he was explaining what would happen next.
“He actually stopped at one point to ask him if he was okay, it was really big news and is he taking it all in?
“Matt’s response was, ‘yes, but there’s nothing I can do about it. It is what it is’.
“He was definitely really brave.”
And Abi says the diagnosis came as even more of a shock given how healthy he was.
She was forced to watch her husband go from happy and sporty to intensive care within days, before he passed away from a pulmonary embolism after just three chemotherapy sessions.
She said: “We knew he was poorly, but maybe not quite how poorly he was.
“I certainly wasn’t expecting a phone call from the hospital.
“I don’t know how I am now. It’s hard. I don’t think I really started to grieve until after the funeral.
“It’s hard to think ahead for anything. It’s a case of taking everything one day at a time.
“Some days are better than others. Some days are horrific and I don’t want to get out of bed.
What is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia?
Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is a type of blood cancer that starts from young white blood cells called lymphocytes in the bone marrow.
Adults and children can get it but it is most often diagnosed in younger people.
It’s very rare, with around 650 people diagnosed with the condition each year in the UK.
Many symptoms of ALL are vague and non specific. It may feel like the flu as symptoms are caused by too many abnormal white blood cells and not enough normal white cells, red cells and platelets.
Symptoms can include:
- Bruising or bleeding easily
- Frequent infections
- General weakness
- Weight loss
- Joint pain
- Pale skin
- Swollen glands
Recently blood cancer charity Bloodwise warned thousands of patients in England could be unnecessarily dying from blood cancer because they are diagnosed too late.
Experts analysed NHS data and found 28 per cent of patients are told they have the disease after needing emergency treatment for their symptoms.
Figures show there are around 40,000 cases of blood cancer – a group of diseases including leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma – each year in the UK.
Around 77 per cent of patients will survive for three years if they are diagnosed after visiting their GP, Bloodwise says.
In contrast, the same survival rate plummets to just 40 per cent for patients who are diagnosed as an emergency.
This is because symptoms develop over a few weeks and become more severe as the number of immature white blood cells increases.
“Matt was a really happy person. He was really positive.
“He was kind, caring, loving, wicked sense of humour. He would make a joke about anything and was very quick-witted.
“As a teacher he would have done anything for his students. He would have done anything for his family.
“He was just a really positive person who would have done anything for anybody.
“He loved his sport. He would go to the gym, he loved being outside and walking. He liked cycling. He was careful about what he ate.
“Everything the doctors warn you about, he didn’t do. He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, he had a good diet, he exercised.
If you’ve got any of the symptoms which are lasting or you can’t explain why you’ve got them, you need to go to the doctor and get checked out and be persistent in asking for a blood test
“He always put sun-cream on because he was paranoid he might catch skin cancer or something.
“He did everything he could to try and prevent anything from happening to him.
“As the doctors said there was nothing he could have done to prevent this.”
Abi is now speaking out to urge others to get checked out and insist for a blood test if they have persistent symptoms of blood cancer.
She said: “If you’ve got any of the symptoms which are lasting or you can’t explain why you’ve got them, you need to go to the doctor and get checked out and be persistent in asking for a blood test.
“You know your own body. It’s as simple as having a blood test.
“If you’ve got it for days and it’s not getting any better, if you’re in any doubt, get it checked.
“We didn’t know what the symptoms were.
“The only one I knew was bruising, but Matt didn’t have any bruises until he was in hospital. So the one thing I knew wasn’t relevant.
“I didn’t realise about the night sweats, fatigue or heavy breathing.
“We never expected it would be that.
“We had thought worst case scenario it was gallstones or an impacted bowel, so when he came and said leukaemia it was just unexpected.
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“When you’re poorly you have all these possibilities going through your head but you never think it’s going to be that.
“I had a really good chat with Matt’s consultant where I questioned whether I should have done more, if I had spotted things sooner, whether if I had been more pushy in getting him to hospital.
“But the symptoms are vague and it can come on within days. It doesn’t have to be something that has been happening for weeks or months.”
You can donate on Abi’s fundraising page in memory of Matt here.