Geraldine Connolly from Wirral in Merseyside was diagnosed with myeloma on 14th August 2019. She’s sharing her journey to encourage people to be aware of the signs and symptoms of myeloma, and credits her optimism throughout her recovery to her local myeloma support group.
After enjoying her first few years of retirement and living a fit and healthy lifestyle, Geraldine developed a chest infection which resulted in a bad cough and leaving her unwell in bed. Her husband Frank recommended she should see a doctor, where she was given antibiotics and a chest x-ray. When the doctor received the results of the x-ray, Geraldine was called back in for further tests.
“By this point, I was feeling much better, but both Frank and I still went in to find out the results from the x-ray. I was told they’d need to run blood tests, but I didn’t think anything of it. Two weeks later, we were told they’d need to do more tests and that we were being referred to a Haematologist as they thought it could be myeloma”, said Geraldine.
In June 2019, Geraldine had a bone marrow biopsy, and when the results came back in August, confirmed the diagnosis of myeloma.
“I’d never heard of myeloma before, so we were in complete shock, especially as I don’t usually get ill and I lead a healthy lifestyle. I did what all people do, even when told not to, and searched on Google to find out more information. That’s when I found out I had been experiencing some of the symptoms six months before, such as achy joints and bone pains, but as I’m now in my early 70s, I had put this down to age.
“We were referred to a specialist to talk through all the options available and Frank did a lot of research, but part of me still couldn’t quite believe it and throughout the early stages of my diagnosis, I was in denial.
“I’m naturally a positive person, so I wanted to stay upbeat, but there are times when you feel so low and it’s a real struggle to pick yourself back up again. The hardest obstacle for me to overcome was accepting that there was something seriously wrong – I have a happy life and it was hard not knowing how long of it was left. I had lots of scans to check how much my bones had been affected, but the doctors were unable to confirm what stage I was at, which was a frightening time.
“I started chemotherapy in October 2019 and was fortunate to have a great support system around me. When I finished my treatment in April 2020, I visited The Royal Liverpool University Hospital to meet with a consultant to discuss having a stem cell transplant. This was something I’d previously been advised against due to my age, but I was determined to give it a go.
“On 2nd July, I had my stem cell transplant which went really well. I stayed in the hospital for a month afterwards but this was all during the time that the Covid-19 restrictions had come into place. I wasn’t allowed any visitors, which was hard but it also did me a lot of good as my risk of infection was very high, it meant I could shield and remain safe without feeling bad for turning visitors away.
“My diagnosis changed my life. For the last fifteen years, we spent six months of each year at our home in Florida and enjoying the best times of our lives. The community we lived in had so much to offer, golfing daily, lots of different activities, many friends which lead to fun get-togethers.
“When I was diagnosed, suddenly we realised our life was about to change forever. I had no idea of the prognosis, so we sadly decided to sell our home in the USA. We talked to my Consultant, and she gave us two weeks to enable us to fly to Florida to sort things out. In those two weeks, with the help of my daughter and her husband, we sold our home and all our possessions and said goodbye to our friends. It broke my heart!
“But Frank came to the rescue; just before I was due to go in for my transplant, he drove me to a supermarket car park and a large car pulled up alongside us towing a small caravan which Frank had bought as a surprise, the idea being when I recovered enough after the transplant, he could take me away in my own ‘Bubble’.
“He didn’t realise how much that helped me get through my transplant. To have my ‘Bubble’ to look forward to, I feel, has been an amazing aid to my recovery.
“I’m incredibly pleased to say that I am now in remission with no signs of myeloma, so hopefully it stays this way! Once we found this out, both Frank and I popped open the champagne to celebrate. It’s been a challenging journey, but one that I couldn’t have faced without the fantastic support from my husband, family, and friends.
“One of my nurses recommended that I join a support group, which is when we came across the West Lancs and Merseyside Myeloma Support Group. I was hesitant and worried it would only highlight bad things, but Frank persuaded me to give it a try, and if I didn’t like it, we could leave.
“As soon as I started speaking with other people at various stages and saw them doing well, it bought back my optimism. Not only did this brilliant group of survivors help me, but it also helped Frank as well. Due to Covid-19, we haven’t been able to meet in a group for a while, but we’ve still been catching up over Zoom and we all can’t wait to get back together to have open discussions and chat together, it’s a huge support system.
“If anyone is feeling unwell with similar symptoms of myeloma, then please do get yourself checked out. You never think it will happen to you and with so little still known about myeloma, so many people may dismiss it for something else.
“The hardest part for me was acceptance, but once I did, life got a lot easier, and don’t be afraid to reach out and join your nearest support group”, said Geraldine.
This March, LMRUK is running a Myeloma Awareness Month to increase awareness and help people to understand the signs and symptoms of what to look out for.
For more information and to find out how to get involved, click here. https://lmruk.org/march-for-myeloma/.
For more information on West Lancs and Merseyside Myeloma Support Group, visit: https://wlm-myeloma.uk/.