A HEREFORD woman has told of how she had to push for more tests that would see her diagnosed with cancer after losing three stone in weight.

When Vivien Martin, 68, from Putson in Hereford, was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia after questioning her doctor's opinion over her weight loss.

The 68-year-old had gone to her GP, where a few tests were run but nothing was found to be wrong.

"He said he'd put it down as unexplained weight loss," she said.

"I wasn't happy with that, especially as I’d lost three stone in weight without trying, so he referred me for tests to see if I had any bowel problems.

"Cancer never crossed my mind for an instant - that was something that would happen to someone else.

"I'm not a pushy person either, and I wouldn't normally question a doctor’s opinion, but something made me question it that time and I’ll always be glad that I did."

Ms Martin was admitted to hospital overnight, where further tests were carried out and came back negative.

But, she said, worrying results were found when her surgeon decided to do a CT scan to be certain, and she underwent a biopsy.

"I went home Christmas Eve knowing that I had to wait three weeks for the results, "she said.

"I cried all over Christmas, it was a horrible time. We always had a big family get together on Christmas Eve, plenty of food, laughter and Christmas songs to be sung.

"I shut myself in my bedroom and just lay there listening to everyone having fun. I just told them I was tired. I always cooked Christmas dinner with my mum, and we always had my sister and her husband join us.

"I went through the motions, but I was crying inside; I honestly thought it might be my last Christmas. I was so pleased when my appointment day finally arrived, as those three weeks of not knowing were the worst weeks of my life.

"When I got the results from a consultant haematologist, I was told I had chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL).

"She said it was one of the best leukemias to have and it shouldn’t bother me too much. I was put on Watch and Wait, and I was OK for over 12 months before I really started to feel exhausted.

"It was the CLL – I had haemolytic anaemia and it was destroying my red blood cells. High dose steroids fixed it, repeatedly, then they weren’t working, so it was six months of chemotherapy.

"I was in remission for a couple of years after taking Ibrutinib, that remission ended in May this year. They hoped it would give me a few years of remission.

"I had eighteen months. A bone marrow biopsy showed my bone marrow was full of it again, so we tried a new targeted therapy, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor called ibrutinib.

"Alongside this I had intravenous immunoglobulin therapy every four weeks to help keep infections at bay. It worked well for 15 months, then I was plagued by UTIs, one after the other, and they were causing heavy blood loss too.

"The ibrutinib and the immunoglobulin were stopped as they were thought to be the cause. Since then, I have stayed remarkably well."

Her story comes as charities warn leukaemia patients are being misdiagnosed or waiting too long for a blood test, charities warned.

Zack Pemberton-Whiteley, chief executive of Leukaemia Care, said: "A blood test is needed to rule out leukaemia.

"A full blood count is a cheap, everyday test that can also help explore what other causes there might be for the patient's symptoms."

More than 10,000 cases are diagnosed every year. The disease claims 5,000 lives annually, while survival stands at just over 50 per cent - making it one of the most deadly forms of cancer..

Leukaemia Care and Leukaemia UK are calling for GPs to be supported properly to ensure prompt blood tests.

The charities have found that patients are having to visit a medical professional multiple times before getting a blood test and subsequent diagnosis.

In many cases patients visit a GP multiple times with symptoms such as fatigue, bruising, unusual bleeding or repeated infections, before experiencing more severe symptoms and needing emergency A&E treatment.

A survey of 253 leukaemia patients found a third of reported being given a blood test straight away (within 48 hours) after first going to their GP with symptoms.

One in seven said they visited their GP more than three times before they were referred to hospital.

NICE guidelines for GPs in England call for GPs to organise an urgent blood test within 48 hours for people with unexplained bruising, extreme fatigue, repeated infections and unexplained fever.

GPs face huge challenges - not only due to capacity issues but also due to the vast array of conditions, many of whose symptoms overlap, that they must try to diagnose.

Staffing issues have deterred some from offering blood tests. Analysing the results will take time that they simply don’t have.

GPs told the charities they often lack capacity to fully interpret the blood tests and processes regarding blood test interpretation are inconsistent across the UK.