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Lawyer Whose 'Jetlag' Turned Out To Be Aggressive Leukemia Explains Why She 'Wouldn't Undo' Her Diagnosis

Lawyer Whose 'Jetlag' Turned Out To Be Aggressive Leukemia Explains Why She 'Wouldn't Undo' Her Diagnosis
Alexandra at home in Wales after spending five weeks at The Christie (PA Real Life/Collect)

This lawyer "would not undo" her diagnosis after being struck down with aggressive leukemia at just 25.

Blaming jet-lag and her massive career move from London to Hong Kong for her growing fatigue, Alexandra Simpson saw a doctor after finding bruises all over her body.

"The doctor told me, 'It's not great news, today,'" Simpson said when receiving her results.

Alexandra in June 2017, before her diagnosis (PA Real Life/Collect)

"The doctor told me he'd booked an appointment with a specialist for me at midday, then wished me luck," she said.

"I left in floods of tears. It was the middle of the night back home, and I knew I had to tell my mum, but I wanted to give her a few more minutes of not knowing that her child had cancer."

Alexandra on the day of her diagnosis – April 16, 2019 (PA Real Life/Collect)

"I wandered around the city, which was still quite unfamiliar to me, with no idea where to go," she continued.

"Eventually, I called home and Mum just kept saying, 'No.' She saw me as this strong, healthy girl – it was shocking that cancer could suddenly hit me so aggressively."

Alexandra during chemotherapy (PA Real Life/Collect)

"You sometimes imagine how it may feel to be told you have cancer," she said.

"On TV, people always seem to go numb – their hearing fades and the room around them swirls. I actually became hyper-aware. I still remember every word the doctor said to me, even now."

"And while it's been incredibly difficult – both for me and the people that have walked alongside me, seeing the horror of it all – I wouldn't undo any of what I've been through."

Alexandra pictured here in February 2020 (PA Real Life/Collect)

"Before, I think I was a little lost, almost sleepwalking through my twenties. But now, I've learnt to appreciate the little things – all those beautiful moments you'd otherwise take for granted – and have a purpose and a passion in raising awareness of leukemia," she added.

Working in a busy law firm, when she had noticed dark circles around her eyes, she assumed it was her fast-paced lifestyle taking its toll rather than anything more drastic.

"I almost got used to having very little energy. I was working long hours and still managing to get myself to the gym three times a week, so I didn't think it was anything overly worrying," she said.

"I blamed city life. I kept telling myself I'd be moving to Hong Kong soon and would feel better in a new place, with a bit of sunshine."

Agreeing she could be anaemic, Simpson's doctor suggested she eat more red meat, or try an iron supplement to get her levels up.

Alexandra in June 2017, before her diagnosis (PA Real Life/Collect)

So, assuming that would be the end of it, she turned her thoughts to her big move in early March 2019.

"I kept telling myself I'd just moved around the world and that feeling tired was natural – but I just wasn't bouncing back from the jet-lag," she continued.

"As I became more comfortable with the new friends I was making out there, they remarked that I still looked pale, despite being in the sweltering heat every day."

Some of Alexandra's unexplained bruises (PA Real Life/Collect)

Simpson banged her leg getting out of the bath one day and noticed a dramatic bruise forming within minutes.

"It kept developing, getting larger and larger, to the point where I was embarrassed to show it, as I could feel people staring, wondering what I'd done," she said.

"That seemed to almost trigger something in my body and, before long, clusters of bruises sprang up all over, with no explanation as to where they'd come from."

One of Alexandra's bruises (PA Real Life/Collect)

The purple rash on Alexandra's legs (PA Real Life/Collect)

And by 9 AM the next morning, the results were back.

"I'd just sat down at my desk when my phone started to ring," recalled Alexandra.

"I don't think the receptionist even said hello. She just asked, 'Where are you?' and told me to come in right away. The urgency in her voice was really worrying."

"When I got there, I was trying to analyze the doctor's face. I knew that something serious was going on, as he couldn't quite look at me. Then he told me I had leukemia."

"A colleague came over to ask if I was okay, as I was visibly upset. I think she assumed it'd be a break-up, or homesickness – a more normal problem for a twenty-something who had moved across the world to be facing," she said.

"When I told her, I watched the color drain from her face. She sat with me and we talked it all over then, bizarrely, I actually wanted to do a bit of work while I waited for my midday appointment. My colleagues thought I was bonkers, but I needed a distraction."

Alexandra as her chemotherapy began (PA Real Life/Collect)

It was only when she saw the specialist later that day, that Simpson realized just how grave it was.

"He told me I wasn't well enough to fly back to the UK, and that I needed to go straight to hospital. I said, 'Okay, I'll just go home to get some things,'" she continued.

"But he told me no, that if I somehow fell or knocked myself on the way, that my blood didn't have enough platelets to form clots, so I could bleed to death."

The photo that made Alexandra decide to shave her hair (PA Real Life/Collect)

"He said, 'you need to go to hospital right now, and just to warn you, you'll be there for at least a month.' He was good at keeping me calm, but also making me realize how much danger I was in."

Alexandra after shaving her hair (PA Real Life/Collect)

Three days after her diagnosis, Simpson began the first of four cycles of chemotherapy.

"It all happened so quickly, that I didn't really have time to consider what I was about to put my body through. I was just focused on getting the cancerous cells eliminated," she said.

"When I look back at that part of everything, it doesn't feel like my life. It's like I'm looking at another girl thinking, 'poor her, she's been through so much.'"

Alexandra following an allergic reaction during chemotherapy (PA Real Life/Collect)

"As well as the obvious side effects, like losing my hair and having to deal with everybody staring at me, knowing I was sick, there were all these other little ways it impacted me," she added.

"For example, my fitness level plummeted to the point where I'd have to take a rest when walking upstairs. It was like being locked out of my own life. The chemo made me sicker than the cancer, in a way – but I knew it was the cure, and I had to keep going."

By May, Simpson flew home, where she continued the rest of her chemotherapy at Manchester's Christie Hospital, finishing in September 2019. Later that month, she began immunotherapy, where the body's own immune system is used to fight off cancerous cells.

"The form I had targets a specific antigen in the leukemic cells, and uses my own immune system to kill the cancer. The drug I take is slowly infused over a 28-day period, so I carry around a pump with me that delivers a very small dose every minute," she explained.

Alexandra beginning immunotherapy (PA Real Life/Collect)

"I know now I wasn't prioritizing the right things, like chasing that deal at work, or buying the latest designer handbag. Those things do have a place in life, and they are important, but they aren't the be all and end all," she said.

Some of Alexandra's unexplained bruises (PA Real Life/Collect)

"Now, things like sitting around the table with my family laughing, or feeling the sun on my neck in the garden – those are the moments that mean the most," she continued.

"For a long time, I put what happened in a box, only to be opened at certain times. Now I've gone from being obsessed that nobody would know to look at me what I've been through, to being proud of my scars."

"I've worked through that denial to find a place of peace. I've found my cause in life and am so proud to be a part of the cancer community."

Alexandra during chemotherapy (PA Real Life/Collect)

By sharing her story, Simpson hopes to encourage others to be mindful of their bodies and to ask their doctors for a blood test if they are worried about any persistent symptoms.

"You know your body better than anybody, so if you feel something has changed – however minor – then ask your doctor for a blood test," she said.

"The likelihood is it will be something much more minor than leukemia, but if it is serious, it's important to catch it early."

"Going through this has completely changed my mindset, and I'm so glad to still be here to appreciate the little things that make life so beautiful."

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