Sunderland teacher tells of seven-year battle with leukaemia - and urges others to be aware of the symptoms

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A Sunderland primary school teacher has described her life with leukaemia – and how it left her ‘feeling like a zombie’.

Bethan Cawley, from Roker, has spoken out to raise awareness on the day a major new study was released showing how only one in 100 people in North East knew how to spot the symptoms of the deadly blood cancer.

Bethan has lived with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) since August 2015, just before her 50th birthday. She had no idea she had CLL until she went to see a doctor with a ‘terrible sore throat’.

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"I just couldn't get rid of it,” said the 56-year-old. Blood tests soon followed and so did visits to hospital. Bethan remembered facing ‘a sea of faces’.

Bethan Cawley who has described her life with leukaemia.Bethan Cawley who has described her life with leukaemia.
Bethan Cawley who has described her life with leukaemia.

She said she was ‘stunned, and sudden realisation dawned on me that there could be something wrong’.

“It was like drowning in a sea of untapped emotions. I was like a zombie and Google became my best friend and my worst enemy.”

Three weeks of tests came next and Bethan was told she had blood cancer which would need chemotherapy. ‘It was non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which would need to be treated straight away. My biggest concern was that my son was getting married in October.

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“I was stunned, shocked, horrified, in denial. I couldn’t speak and didn’t want to talk to anyone.”

Bethan at her son's wedding.Bethan at her son's wedding.
Bethan at her son's wedding.

Her CLL led to chemotherapy treatment and Bethan enjoyed five years remission.

She said: “A year ago, I found a few lumps in my neck so I was monitored closely and this spring I went downhill very quickly, suffering from dizziness, bruising and fatigue.”

Further tests showed low platelet levels in her blood and some anomalies in her lungs which had to be seen by a chest specialist.

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“Everything was zapping my energy and I couldn’t even be bothered to put any makeup on," said Bethan. “Very quickly it was decided that I needed a couple of units of blood. This did perk me up slightly to be able function better.

Bethan Cawley.Bethan Cawley.
Bethan Cawley.

“I am currently eight weeks into treatment with Venetoclax and Rituximab. I am unable to work throughout the treatment but I am enjoying the summer sun as well as binge watching series on Netflix.”

Bethan is supporting Leukaemia UK and Leukaemia Care in their awareness campaign after a survey showed only 1% of those surveyed in the North East could identify all four of the most widely reported symptoms - fatigue, bruising, unusual bleeding and repeated infections.

Fiona Hazell, Chief Executive of Leukaemia UK said: “People underestimate their risk by thinking that leukaemia is a childhood disease. In reality, both incidence and mortality rates rise sharply after the age of 55”

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Zack Pemberton-Whiteley, Chief Executive of Leukaemia Care, said: “Early diagnosis of leukaemia can improve survival. With over 10,000 people being diagnosed every year with a leukaemia, this shows just how important it is to continue to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms and how much work needs to be done.”

Bethan Cawley who has backed a campaign to raise awareness of leukaemia.Bethan Cawley who has backed a campaign to raise awareness of leukaemia.
Bethan Cawley who has backed a campaign to raise awareness of leukaemia.


Forty per cent of North East people could not identify any of the symptoms of the disease which kills 5,000 people a year in the UK, and which is often diagnosed too late.

Figures show 28 people receive a leukaemia diagnosis every day in the UK – that’s over 10,000 every year.


Leukaemia UK and Leukaemia Care have joined forces to launch #SpotLeukaemia. It is a campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms ahead of Blood Cancer Awareness Month in September.

They have called on the expertise of ‘Henry’, a talented Macaw parrot, to try to make the symptoms of leukaemia memorable. The ad sees Henry using a range of objects to create a catchy and repetitive ‘Spot Leukaemia rap’ featuring the symptoms of leukaemia.


People who are concerned about any of the symptoms - fatigue, bruising, unusual bleeding and repeated infections – is strongly urged by the charities to contact their GP and request a blood test.

More information is available on the Spot Leukaemia website at