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Man who thought nothing of 'bug bite' on foot learns that it was an aggressive form of leukemia

An Ohio man who initially dismissed what he thought was a bug bite on his foot later learned that it was actually an aggressive form of leukemia, Today reports. 

Last August, Mike Balla, a facility manager from Rocky River, Ohio, said he discovered a bump on his foot but figured it was a mosquito or spider bite. Over the course of two weeks, however, the bump grew to the size of a nickel and started to hurt. Balla said he then visited urgent care.

"I figured it was a bite that got infected," the 46-year-old said. "The urgent care doctor basically said the same thing."

Despite taking an antibiotic, Balla said, the bump didn't go away. It reportedly grew to the size of a quarter. Upon visiting a physician, he was again told that the bump was an infected bug bite and given a different antibiotic. Still, the bump remained. Two days later, Balla took several blood tests, from which an emergency room doctor later determined that he had leukemia.

"I figured they were wrong," Balla said. "That was the first time we heard that term. To be honest with you, I had heard of leukemia, but I knew nothing about it."

Balla was, in fact, diagnosed with an aggressive form of adult acute myeloid leukemia, a type of cancer in which the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells, red blood cells or platelets.

"It took days for it to register," he recalled. "This is real. This isn't a dream."

Balla said doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, where he was treated, recommended a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy. In a separate interview, one of the clinic's oncologists who treated Balla, Dr. Aaron Gerds, told Today that too often men like him wait too long to see a doctor, even if there are symptoms or injuries.

"What rings true to me is the 'I'm going to put this off.' Men often self-diagnose and downgrade what it might be," Gerds said. "The common part of the story is that he ignored some of the symptoms."

Though Balla was purportedly cancer-free a few months after treatment, the leukemia returned in May.

"We kind of knew that it was a possibility," he said. "I won't say that we were surprised that it happened. But we were surprised how quickly it came back."

Following another round of chemotherapy, Balla said he is now in remission and back to work but wants others to learn from his situation.

"I was the typical person who said, 'It'll heal. It's fine. It's nothing,'" he said. "Mine wasn't nothing."

"Go and make an appointment," he added. "It takes an hour."