I woke up and couldn’t feel my legs — I had cancer and sepsis

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A British mom of five who battled leukemia and sepsis is sharing the extreme symptoms she experienced — including temporary paralyzation — and the importance of advocating for yourself in medical settings.

Joanne Risdale, 54, felt something was amiss in 2018, when she resisted the urge to nap every 10 minutes while driving. She would sleep the rest of the day when she returned home.

Risdale also noticed that she lost her appetite and experienced strong nausea that she described as “unshakeable” to Jam Press.

A doctor reportedly gave her iron pills for anemia — but things became much more serious when she fell while boarding the train one morning, resulting in a huge gash on her leg that wouldn’t stop bleeding.

Her husband, Lee, 50, dressed the wound, but it just wouldn’t heal — even months later.


A woman from England battled both leukemia and sepsis, and is warning others of the symptoms she experienced.
Joanne Risdale battled leukemia and sepsis and is sharing the symptoms she experienced.
Jam Press

Joanne Risdale, 54, first began feeling that something was wrong in 2019.
Risdale, 54, began noticing that something was wrong in 2018.
Jam Press

The mom-of-five described feeling tired and nauseous before her diagnosis.
The mom of five described feeling tired and nauseous before her diagnosis.
Jam Press

“I woke up one morning and realized I couldn’t feel my legs — it was terrifying,” she explained.

“I couldn’t help but panic, but a few months prior, the same feeling happened and I lost all my balance.”

After falling again, she was taken to the hospital, where she received three blood transfusions because her white blood cell count was so low.

“I demanded a blood test, as I knew there was something seriously wrong with me,” Risdale recalled.

The next morning, she received a life-changing diagnosis: Acute myeloid leukemia (AML).


Risdale later received a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia.
Risdale eventually received a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia.
Jam Press

“I demanded a blood test, as I knew there was something seriously wrong with me," Risdale recalled.
“I demanded a blood test, as I knew there was something seriously wrong with me,” Risdale recalled.
Jam Press

Three months after her leukemia diagnosis, she battled a bout of sepsis, which temporarily paralyzed her.
Three months after her leukemia diagnosis, she battled a bout of sepsis, which temporarily paralyzed her.
Jam Press

AML is a type of cancer that starts in the bone marrow, often spreading to the blood, according to the American Cancer Society.

The five-year survival rate for American adults with AML is 29.5%, per Yale Medicine.

“I kept wondering, ‘Why me?,’ and I worried about my future, as well as my kids,” Risdale said.

Three months later, things took another turn for the worse, and the Bristol resident developed sepsis.

The condition, which occurs when the body improperly responds to an infection, can very quickly lead to organ failure, tissue damage and even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Risdale is a mom of five: Alex, 30, Ashley, 28, Charlotte, 23, Candia, 19 and Kerry, 10.
Risdale later developed sepsis.
Jam Press

She is currently working with Leukemia UK to help spread her message.
She is working with Leukemia UK to help spread her message.
Jam Press

Luckily, doctors were able to treat Risdale’s sepsis in time, but it temporarily paralyzed her.

She said she had to take about 40 pills per day and be hooked to an IV for months.

Three months later, she was able to learn to walk again on her own with the help of physical therapy, and now she is cancer free after receiving a stem cell transplant in June 2021.

She receives chemotherapy once a month to make sure the cancer is kept at bay.

Risdale is working with Leukemia UK, an organization that aims to “bring together” the leukemia community, to spread her message.


Currently, Risdale has been declared cancer-free.
Risdale has been cancer free for nearly a year.
Jam Press

She wants others to know that there is a "light at the end of the tunnel."
She wants leukemia sufferers to know there is a “light at the end of the tunnel.”
Jam Press

“My advice is to demand a blood test whenever any worrying symptoms occur, and I hope sufferers realize there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Risdale said.

She also recommends talking with family and friends or even health-based charities.

“I know if I can battle this, anybody can,” she declared.

And if her cancer does return, Risdale said she’s ready to fight once again.

“It’s been a long and hard journey, but if it comes back, I’m ready to take it on again,” she said.

“It won’t beat me, and I’m determined to fight this for good.”

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