A hairstylist for over a quarter of a century, Annmarie Byrne, who lives in Leixlip, was attending for routine bloods in 2014 when she was told that her white cell count was significantly elevated.
Further blood tests over the following year would confirm a diagnosis of monoclonal B cell lymphocytosis or MBL.
“MBL is a precursor to chronic lymphocytic leukaemia which I really didn’t ever think I would get as it is normally a cancer that affects older men. However, three years later, in 2018, I was diagnosed with it,” says Annmarie.
The Irish Cancer Society has invested millions of euro into clinical trials since 2012. With a €1 million investment in both 2021 and 2022 respectively. The aim of these trials is to test new and more effective ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer.
“In August 2021, it was decided that I should undergo treatment as enlarged lymph nodes had been found. I was offered an opportunity by Professor Patrick Thornton in Beaumont Hospital to take part in the CLL 17 clinical trial investigating a combination of an immunosuppressant therapy known as Obinutuzumab, alongside a targeted therapy called venetoclax. I felt fortunate to be asked and was more than happy to get started. Treatment got underway in October 2021, and consisted of monthly infusions of Obinutuzumab for six months, with four venetoclax tablets taken daily.
“Within days, I noticed that the enlarged lymph nodes were gone which was a very clear visual sign to me that the treatment was working. That was a huge relief.
“I will say that the isolation throughout my treatment was so difficult, as it happened during the COVID lockdowns. I had several overnights in hospital and prolonged periods where I didn’t see my husband Patrick and children for days in a row. That was really tough. In addition, I also managed to contract COVID-19 three times during 2021 and 2022, which resulted in further periods of isolation. At one point, I was actually given the same treatment as Donald Trump – a monoclonal antibody called sotrovimab – to treat the virus, and was told I was the first patient in Beaumont to receive it!”
Annmarie’s trial finished in October 2022. Following tests, she was told that she is free of CLL and is now in complete remission.
“My attitude to my diagnosis today is that it has taught me to really appreciate life and to cherish my family and friends. I have also learned to work at a pace that suits me and to ensure that I have a balance between work and family, and, most importantly for me, that I get to enjoy keeping fit.”
Annmarie has two grown-up children – Alex and Shona – who she says have been a massive support throughout her cancer journey. “They, along with my husband, have been with me every step of the way,” she says.
Annmarie is something of an adrenaline junkie, having completed a parachute jump in aid of Pieta House in 2013.
In her spare time, Annmarie enjoys riding “pillion” on her husband’s Suzuki motorbike and getting to see the country. She is also a keen runner and one of her proudest achievements has been taking part in the Dublin City Marathon. “I have taken part in the Dublin marathon on three occasions – in 2010, 2013 and 2017 – and I’m now in training for number 4 later this year. I’m really enjoying living life to the full again.”
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