An Oxford man has revealed his shock after the chest pain he was experiencing turned out to be leukaemia.

Garry Allen from Headington was left stunned after doctors, who initially believed he was having heart problems, handed him a diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL).

He is now sharing his story as part of the #SpotLeukaemia campaign which aims to raise awareness of symptoms of the disease ahead of Blood Cancer Awareness Month in September.

Leukaemia is a blood cancer and around 10,000 people are diagnosed with leukaemia each year in the UK. it is reported that less than 1 per cent of Brits are able to identify the four most widely reported symptoms. 

Common symptoms include: 

  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Bruising
  • Unusual bleeding
  • Repeated infections
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Bone or joint pain

Mr Allen, 70, was first diagnosed with leukaemia in 2013 when he was 61. He is currently in remission.

Mr Allen said: “My battle with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia began in June 2013 after a fantastic holiday to Texas. On arriving back in the UK, I felt a slight ache across my chest. This proceeded to ache more and more as the week went on.

"I had decided that if the ache did not ease by the following Monday, I would consult my GP. On the Friday morning as I was leaving for work, my chest felt like it was being hit with a heavy hammer. Time to seek medical help.

“I went from feeling tired, which I put down to age, and then as symptoms progressed, I started feeling cold and unable to regulate my body temperature.”

Mr Allen’s son rushed him to his GP who “took one look” and sent him straight to A&E.

 Oxford Mail: Garry Allen outside the Kassam Stadium Garry Allen outside the Kassam Stadium

After undergoing tests for his chest pain, Mr Allen was told he had thrombosis on the lung which initially provided him relief “as I knew it was treatable”.

However, following more blood tests he was handed the devastating news that he had leukaemia.

The diagnosis left Mr Allen in “turmoil”

“I thought it was the end of me. I thought of my family and the things I had always wanted to do before I died,” he explained.

After his diagnosis Mr Allen “kept things bottled up” so he would not worry his family, but his had a negative impact on his own mental health and wellbeing.

“I would often burst into tears when I was walking my dog. I just felt so alone with no one to talk to,” he said.

During one of his visits to see his consultant he decided to call in to the Maggie's Centre based at the Churchill Hospital, a cancer support centre. 

He said: “As I approached the sliding doors, my nerves got the better of me and I started to turn away. A young lady volunteer appeared in the doorway and asked me to come inside and have a cup of tea. So that’s what I did.

“I straight away began to tell her about my worries and burst into tears. After the cup of tea and on leaving the Maggies centre, I felt as though a great weight had been lifted from my mind.”

After this, Mr Allen decided he was not “going to give up without a fight”.

Oxford Mail: Garry Allen now coaches the Oxford United Walking Football Club Downs Syndrome football sessions.Garry Allen now coaches the Oxford United Walking Football Club Downs Syndrome football sessions.

Before beginning treatment, Mr Allen was beginning to "feel tired all the time”, needing a nap in the afternoon and suffering from extremely cold.

“My treatment consisted of six cycles of FCR given intravenously. On the second cycle the dosage was reduced to 50 per cent due to an allergic reaction, which caused a severe rash over my arms.

“During my treatment I suffered from many infections which resulted in admission to hospital. This was due to my immune system being compromised during my chemotherapy.

"So, after my treatment I was very weak and could not walk very far and was always tired. During and after my treatment my employer was very understanding and let me work from home when needed and granted time off for appointments,” he explained.

Oxford Mail: Garry Allen with members of the Oxford United Walking Football club Garry Allen with members of the Oxford United Walking Football club

In April 2016, Mr Allen was told he was officially in remission and began working to get his energy levels back by getting involved in walking football and a jogging club.

Mr Allen now helps out with the Leukaemia Care Services as a “buddy” for newly diagnosed people.

In this role he chats with people on the phone to give them comfort and support.

Mr Allen said: “Spotting leukaemia is important to me as I feel there is a need for more information to be available for people in order to make them aware of symptoms and so seek medical help sooner.”


Read more from this author

This story was written by Sophie Perry. She joined the team in 2021 as a digital reporter.

You can get in touch with her by emailing:

Follow her on Twitter @itssophieperry

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