UK mum dies day after being diagnosed with rare, aggressive leukaemia

Composite of Liz Taylor and her family
APML is a rare and very aggressive subtype of acute myeloid leukaemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Photo credit: Leukaemia UK

The family of a mother-of-two who died just hours after she was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia is now raising money to fund possibly life-changing research. 

Elizabeth 'Liz' Taylor, a 51-year-old teaching assistant from Leicestershire, England, was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APML) in July last year - months after she began experiencing a range of symptoms she and her husband initially dismissed as fatigue due to her busy lifestyle. 

APML is a rare and very aggressive subtype of acute myeloid leukaemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Although symptoms are often similar to other leukaemias, APML isn't easily detected in blood samples and typically is only conclusively diagnosed with a bone marrow biopsy.  

Speaking to the charity Leukaemia UK, her husband Jonathan Taylor said Liz had been struggling with ongoing tiredness and migraines that affected her vision. An optometrist found no issues with her eyes and advised the mum-of-two to see her GP, who ordered a blood test. 

"This showed her blood count was very low and was at serious risk of infection, but no reason could be found other than possibly some kind of virus," Taylor told the charity.

As the migraines and blurred vision became more frequent and debilitating, Taylor took Liz to A&E, where she was informed she had neutropenia - a low number of a particular type of white cells in her blood. However, doctors couldn't determine the cause. 

Liz's symptoms continued to intensify, including worsening migraines, severe pain in her chest and legs, further blurring of her vision and eventually, heavy bleeding. It was at this point she received the results of her MRI scan, which showed multiple infarcts, or marks, on her brain - a sign of continual small strokes. She was admitted to Leicester Royal Infirmary.

"Given blood clots are generally a major cause of strokes, the hospital's initial diagnosis was that a heart problem had been causing the multiple blood clots and strokes - which later proved not to be the case," said Taylor.

"During the following 10 days Liz underwent numerous cardio checks and assessments, during which time she suffered a larger, more serious stroke. Having been initially cancelled due to her hospital admission 10 days earlier, eventually a bone marrow test was scheduled.

"Once the bone marrow results came back, Liz was diagnosed with APML."

Liz Taylor smiling
Liz Taylor died aged 51 the day after she was diagnosed. Photo credit: Leukaemia UK

Liz died the day after her diagnosis on July 14, 2022 from a brain haemorrhage, which was linked to her previous strokes. 

"If only I and the medical teams caring for Liz had the knowledge and foresight to identify the signs earlier, Liz could have been diagnosed sooner. She passed away on the day after her APML diagnosis aged 51, without having had any opportunity for treatment," Taylor said. 

"The family, in particular her two daughters Kate, 26, and Charlotte, 23, are still coming to terms with her loss, struggling to truly accept what has happened and how or why their beautiful mum was taken so young. The entire family is still numb and in shock that someone so young, fit and healthy can be taken in this way." 

Liz's friends and family are now raising money for Leukaemia UK and other charities to fund research into more effective treatments as well as campaigning work, in the hope it continues to raise awareness about symptoms of the cancer.

"We want to urge people not to dismiss any sign or symptom they may have or put it down to daily aches and pains we all often suffer, irrespective of age," said Taylor. "Before Liz's eventual diagnosis, the tell-tale signs were dismissed as fatigue, menopausal, migraines and eye deterioration. 

"Sadly for Liz, the now-obvious multiple symptoms she had from APML were never all joined up, and heartbreakingly the eventual bone marrow test came too late."

Liz Taylor, her husband Jonathan and her two daughters.
Liz Taylor, her husband Jonathan and her two daughters. Photo credit: Leukaemia UK

According to the charity, signs and symptoms of APML include but are not restricted to: fatigue, caused by low numbers of red blood cells, or anaemia; repeated infections, caused by low numbers of white blood cells; blood clots which could lead to pains around the body, headaches, or problems with vision; bruising and bleeding easily, caused by low numbers of platelets; and unexplained weight loss.

"APML is a very aggressive, rapidly developing cancer and, as with other types of leukaemia, the symptoms can be vague and non-specific," said Leukaemia UK chief executive Fiona Hazell, as per the BBC. 

"Often a blood test is insufficient for diagnosis of APML, and further testing - such as a bone marrow biopsy and genetic tests - is required."

At the time of writing, Liz's friends and family have raised over £18,900 (NZ$40,600) for the charity and its initiatives.