I'm a Belgian, 25-year-old (or young :) ) woman and live near the Bruges. English isn't my native language, so I'm sorry for the possible misspellings in this story! At the age of 22, I've heard the 5 most destroying words in my life: "You have chronic myeloid leukemia." I didn't know what it was or what I should expect, but nevertheless my world fell apart. A few months earlier, I placed sixth at the European Indoor Championships at the 1500 meter track race in Paris and ran a Belgian record at the same distance. I was ready to move further and was really training hard for the Olympic Games in London 1 year later (2012). One day after my diagnosis, the newspaper screamed the words "1 Year until LONDON." And I was crying like hell.
Symptoms before diagnosis
The diagnosis came as a shock. I was tired, but I was also training 12 times and week and studying for my Masters in Physiotherapy. With all of that on your plate, anyone would be tired. But the weeks and months went by, and I felt that my training was going well - but nothing like it was before. I had a lot of headaches and inflammation in my throat. I was very good at ignoring those symptoms...in my eyes, they weren't symptoms at all!
But 1 week before my diagnosis, I raced in the European Championships for the Under 23 age-group. 2 years earlier, I placed 4th and now I was stronger, faster, and better. I raced hard and tried to place even better. But that didn't happen at all! I found myself in 9th place and had a very strange and bad feeling during the race. My sports doctor checked my blood again, because they expected a low level of iron. What they saw, however, was that my white blood cell levels were elevated. That was also the case a few months earlier, but we always had an explanation. Training, tired, maybe a little infection - it never seemed like it was something to worry about. But now, the amount was too much to be "nothing," so he decided to go to the Department of Hematology at the University Hospital in Leuven (Belgium). "Just to be sure" and with the faith that afterwards I could return to training.
I soothed everyone, even myself. "You can't train like that - you can't do things like normal - especially when something bad is going on! So everything will be okay." But it wasn't. At all.
I couldn't believe it. I thought it was some kind of sick joke. I thought the hospital was wrong, that the test results were false positive. After the shock, no, during the shock, my thoughts went to my running...what about my running? Running was the biggest part of my life. While my mother asked how the life expectation and life quality was, I rubbed my eyes in disbelief by hearing her ask those 'stupid' questions. But the doctor shook me back to reality by saying that these were very good questions to ask.
The answer we would hear a lot, until I couldn't hear it anymore, was "if you react well on the medications and the side effects are okay, your life expectancy and quality of life will be okay. Even returning to sports at the highest level could be a possible." That would turn out to be even more removed from the truth than saying that elephants are green and the sky is pink, but at that moment, it was like the only branch of wood in the whole ocean. It was either believing in it - or sinking. And, so, I believed in it with all I had!
Part 2 - Treatment & my life today will be posted on Thursday, April 23rd.