ROCKY RIVER, Ohio – Mike Balla of Rocky River said he first noticed a bump on his foot last August and assumed it was just a mosquito or spider that bit him.
"You know, it was kind of uncomfortable, but I did the usual Neosporin and all that kind of stuff and it continually got worse, it got more sensitive and more swollen," he recalled.
After suffering for two weeks, Balla, a facilities manager for Rocky River, sought medical attention with a doctor prescribing antibiotics.
"I went for about two days and it was to a point where it was just excruciating," he said.
Balla, 46, would return to his doctor and a blood test would reveal a startling diagnosis. He was suffering from acute leukemia.
"When the emergency room doctor came in and said we're waiting for an oncologist to come in and talk to you and I said, well I'm here for an insect bite and an infection and I think you have the wrong room," he said.
His initial denial turned into a month long battle. He was hospitalized at the Cleveland Clinic for aggressive chemo treatments.
In December of last year, he received a bone marrow transplant from his older brother, who turned out to be a perfect match.
But after being in remission for several months, more bad news.
"I had, had a relapse, and ugh....trail with tears," said Balla.
Doctor Aaron Gerds, an oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic said while skin problems can happen, they are a rare symptom of leukemia.
But what he is seeing more is that men often downgrade or simply ignore warning signs, which include bleeding or bruising, anemia, developing infections more easily, swollen lymph nodes and loss of energy of appetite.
"It's called acute because if people don't get treatment right away, it can take people's lives within days and weeks," he said.
After another round of chemotherapy, Balla is once again cancer free and was even healthy enough to attend his son’s college graduation.
He is now back to work and sharing his story in hopes of helping others.
“I have learned that you have to kind follow up and make sure that you're listening to your body," he said.