Welling woman beats leukaemia and celebrates life after diagnosis – News Shopper


A woman from Welling has beat leukaemia and gone on to get married and have a baby, despite being told egg reserves were low due to chemotherapy.
Rhianna McKenna thought her breathlessness and bruises were just part of feeling run down and would get better with rest.
Less than a week later, the 28-year-old was taken to hospital where she was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukaemia.
Rhianna said: “It all started on a Saturday in 2020.
“I was working from home and was getting really breathless and dizzy.
“My glands were starting to swell, and when I got in the bath that evening, I noticed several bruises across my body – anyone would think I’d gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson.
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“I was naive and left it for a few days, thinking I was maybe just worn out and needed rest.
“I called my GP, and they prescribed me antibiotics for tonsillitis.
“I was stuck in bed, I had zero energy and felt awful.
When Rhianna woke up on the following Wednesday, she realised she had clots in her gums, so she decided to call the dentist.
“They prescribed me antibiotics for a gum infection” she added, yet her symptoms were getting worse.
Rhianna explained: “I was so confused, scared, and worried.
“I told myself to let the antibiotics kick in and I would soon be feeling brighter.
“Then it got worse – my sight started to go in my left eye, things were blurry, and I didn’t know what was going on.”
Rhianna says her parents had been “nagging” her to call 111, but she claims she was “so scared” about what might have been wrong with her.
On Friday, May 15, 2020, Rhianna’s life changed dramatically – after her mum called 111 and she was taken straight to hospital.
She said: “I remember hearing my dad say that he had called an ambulance as I had passed out at the bottom of the stairs.
“I remember the paramedics telling my mum I had to go on my own to the hospital because of COVID-19.
“Next thing I knew I was in A&E and they were trying to take my bloods but it was just clotting.
“I must have fallen asleep, because next I was being woken by a haematology doctor who then said, ‘Rhianna, I am really sorry, but I have to tell you—you have acute promyelocytic leukaemia, you are very sick, and it is important we get you better very quickly.’
“I was heartbroken” the 28-year-old said, as she sat in a room alone, with nobody to help her process the information.
Rhianna was soon rushed to ICU at St Thomas’s, where she was intubated for five days in order for her lungs to be able to cope with the intense chemotherapy.
News Shopper: Rhianna and baby Olivia (image: Rhianna/leukaemiacare.org.uk)Rhianna and baby Olivia (image: Rhianna/leukaemiacare.org.uk)
On admission, her white cell count was at 216 and Rhianna’s parents were told that the next few days was crucial.
Rhianna explained: “If they couldn’t get my white cells down, I possibly only had a few days left.
“Day by day my white cell count began to drop and eventually I came off the ventilator and that was the start of my recovery journey.
“I was moved to Guy’s Cancer Centre, where I spent four weeks and began taking ATRA and had to have daily blood transfusions or platelet transfusions.
“My mouth was covered in ulcers and sores and for the first two weeks I was living off yoghurts and jellies as they were soft.
“I began learning things about my body and about cancer that I never thought I would learn.
“I learnt my body is stronger than I ever thought, and it isn’t made of glass.
“I began having eye injections to reduce the swelling and remove the blood from behind my eyes.
“I slowly started to notice an improvement in my eyesight.
“I then started consolidation with arsenic and ATRA.”
Rhianna completed five days of that cycle as an inpatient at Guy’s and then was allowed to go home.
“I was super excited but also so nervous” Rhianna said, as she claims to have felt safe in the hospital, knowing there were doctors and nurses there to be there if she needed them.
She said: “It took me a week or so to adjust to being home, but I was slowly getting there.
“I started having chemotherapy twice a week as an outpatient.
“At the end of my first consolidation cycle, I had my bone marrow biopsy.
“I was so nervous and worried about having this, but I knew I needed to have it to find out if the leukaemia was still in my blood.
“Then it was such a long wait for the results, it felt like forever.”
“I started cycle two, five days as an inpatient having arsenic every day for five days.
“I was soon told my bone marrow biopsy results were back – It was clear – no visual signs of leukaemia.”
Rhianna says her eyesight has improved but she has suffered permanent damage and will never regain her full eyesight.
Despite this, Rhianna says she feels “more and more positive every day” and is slowly getting back to some sort of normality.
She added: “The NHS has been amazing; they saved my life, and I will be forever grateful.
“We are so lucky to have such an amazing health service.
“My family, partner and friends have been my support system who have made this journey so far, a little easier.
“I love them so much and I could not have done it without them.”
Rhianna finished her treatments 19 months ago, and in September 2021, she married her beloved partner, Aidan.
Rhianna said: “We had the most amazing wedding day.
“After having some checks done, we were told that unfortunately as a result of the intense chemotherapy treatment that my egg reserve was extremely low and the chances of us conceiving naturally were very small.
“But in November 2021, we found out we were pregnant.
“I gave birth to a healthy baby girl on July 8, 2022.”
Rhianna, who is in complete molecular remission and still having bone marrow biopsy every three months, says she found Leukaemia care “truly amazing” throughout her diagnosis.
Rhianna added: “I’ve realised that early diagnosis is so important with leukaemia and so many people are unaware of the signs and symptoms and sometimes it can be too late.
“I want to raise awareness of not ignoring symptoms.
“Everybody knows their own body best and if they feel something is not right, they should get it checked out straight away.
“I can’t help but think, if I went to urgent care when I first became unwell, maybe it wouldn’t have been so serious.
“I was days away from death because I didn’t know the signs of leukaemia.
“So, I think it’s so important that people learn to spot the signs.”
The most common symptoms of leukaemia are fatigue, bleeding and bruising, repeated infections, fever or night sweats, bone or joint pain and shortness of breath.
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