Yvonne Gabriel presented no obvious symptoms other than feeling a bit tired when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. If not for a sinus infection, Yvonne’s cancer journey may have been quite different.
It was a routine health assessment that changed Yvonne Gabriel’s life. Having just celebrated her 50th birthday, and a planned African safari on the horizon, the last thing Yvonne saw in her future was a cancer diagnosis.
Yvonne tells Black Women Rising how this diagnosis changed her outlook on life and how she remains positive and in good spirits.
“I was generally feeling fine, the only thing was that I had a bit of a sinus infection.” It was decided that Yvonne would undergo minor surgery to clear the sinus infection. However, it was in the pre-op for this surgery that a blood test revealed extremely low neutrophil levels.
Around ten o’clock that evening, Yvonne received a phone call urging her to come and see the Emergency GP right away. “The receptionist’s voice was quite panicked, asking how I was feeling, if I felt okay and telling me that my neutrophil levels were very low. Relatively I felt fine, a bit tired but nothing that I would have gone to see a medical professional about. It was the panic in her voice that made me think something more was going on.”
It was when Yvonne spoke to the GP that the possibility of leukemia was brought to her attention, after the GP listed that as one of the causes of having low neutrophil levels. After being called in for various other tests - including a spleen test and bone marrow biopsy – Yvonne was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
“It was a bit of a whirlwind from feeling fine to then this huge diagnosis. But I do consider myself to be so fortunate because had it not been for that pre-op assessment then it would’ve been missed.”
The treatment was successful and relatively contained. Living now in remission, Yvonne undergoes regular blood tests every six months and physical feels nearly back to where she was before.
“For the most part, right now I’ve got myself back to where I was with age taken into consideration, menopause taken into consideration, all the niggles and everything else. It’s taken a bit of awhile, in part due to the chemo being so intense, it took its toll, but I pushed myself to get back there.”
It hasn’t always been easy and while Yvonne considers herself to be very fortunate, she too has had struggles post diagnosis and treatment.
“Emotionally, I think it’s probably the biggest thing… the diagnosis being what I call the ‘silent creeper’ there were no symptoms for me to look back at and think that I should have paid attention to that.”
Yvonne now works with Blood Cancer UK to change the narrative around cancer and women of colour. She details her experiences and gives advice on how medical professionals can approach women in different communities.
On speaking about Black Women Rising, Yvonne states “Too often people pick up a booklet and they are not represented. If you don’t see yourself reflected, you’re less likely to want be involved in those services that are so crucial.”