27-year-old Beth Gilmore stretchered onto a plane to Brisbane after a shock blood cancer diagnosis.
Just days after a routine blood test, Beth Gilmore was told that she had acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and was stretchered onto a plane bound for Brisbane for emergency treatment – not knowing when she’d see her partner, friends or family again.
In September 2022, things were looking up for 27-year-old Beth Gilmore. She recently graduated from university and settled into a new home to begin her promising career in teaching.
“I had recently completed my Bachelor in Teaching and had moved to a small town to begin my career. I just returned from a holiday to New Zealand and was excited to plan my next adventure”, Beth says.
But upon her return home, Beth started to feel unwell – and this triggered a series of events that would change her life forever.
“I was feeling tired and sleeping more than normal, so I went to my doctor and requested a blood test.”
“I had the blood test on a Friday, and early the following morning I received a phone call from the pathologist processing my blood who was concerned about my health, as my neutrophil levels were extremely low. At this point, I had no idea what that even meant. The pathologist wanted me to go to the nearest hospital or to call me an ambulance. This was quite confronting as I felt healthy.”
“I was admitted to Rockhampton Hospital, and tests were underway immediately to see what was causing these low levels. Just one day after a bone marrow biopsy, the doctor entered my room and told me that my results had come back earlier than expected, and that I had AML.”
It was then that Beth was told that she would be stretchered onto a plane that afternoon for emergency treatment for six months, putting her entire life on hold.
“My haematologist and her team informed me that I would be flying to Brisbane that afternoon and would be there for around six months.” Beth reflects on the shockwaves that this news sent through her and her family – made worse by the fact that this wasn’t the only cancer diagnosis the family had received last year.
“There were lots of tears and questions I did not have the answers to yet. My mum was overwhelmed as my older sister had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and had just had a double mastectomy. She thought we were having some real bad luck.”
“My partner, Alois, said that the hardest part of it all was watching them take me away on the stretcher to board the plane. He didn’t know when he was going to see me again or what would happen next.”
“It took three days before Alois could join me, and then my mum arrived a few days after. I was trying to arrange somewhere for them to stay on top of trying to handle other things, it was overwhelming at times.”
Beth immediately began treatment at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, where she spent the next few months. Before she started her induction chemotherapy, Beth and Alois received a phone call from a welfare worker at the hospital. She told them that the Leukaemia Foundation had arranged for both Alois and Beth’s mum to stay at the Clem Jones-Sunland Village in Coopers Plains – under 20 minutes' drive from the hospital.
This was a huge relief to the family, as Beth’s loved ones had a place to stay close by while she began her treatment. Shortly after, Beth was well enough to briefly leave the hospital for Christmas and the New Year.
This break – where she was finally able to spend time back at their unit with her loved ones – was short lived, and she needed to return to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital to continue her treatment after the holiday period.
Shortly after her return to hospital, Beth received some much more positive news.
After several rounds of induction and consolidation chemotherapy, a stem cell donor was found, and Beth was on the path to a stem cell transplant, which she underwent in February this year.
“We were both nervous, but excited – because we were getting closer to being able to go home. There had been talk of my transplant for months, and we were finally there. We were anxious about the side effects and everything being out of our control. After the transplant, I just felt very tired, and it took a while to build up my strength again.”
During her stay in hospital, Beth had regular touchpoints with Alisha, her Leukaemia Foundation Blood Cancer Support Coordinator, who helped in navigating her blood cancer journey.
“I had received communications from Alisha with useful resources and just check-ins, but finally met her when I was discharged after my first round of chemotherapy,” Beth says.
“I had a lot of questions from my friends and family about my disease and treatment process. I was given a booklet about AML written by the Leukaemia Foundation, which I would give to others to read as it answered all their questions and was easy to comprehend.”
“It was nice to see a familiar face and have someone to talk to on a regular basis. Alisha would often check if we needed anything and helped me apply for various vouchers that helped us with travel to and from hospital appointments.”
“We would have been lost without the support of the Leukaemia Foundation and its Blood Cancer Support Coordinators, as they provided valuable resources and allowed us to access information and assisted in accessing fuel and transportation vouchers. It was also nice to be surrounded by people who understood what you were going through and genuinely cared.”
Now three months post-transplant, Beth has high hopes for 2023 and beyond – which includes returning to work and to her beloved dogs, as well as her wedding!
“I am looking forward to returning home and being reunited with my two dogs and going back to work. I am also planning a trip to Canada next year and we are wedding planning for 2025. We are very excited to continue living our lives and seeing what the future has in store for us.”
You can help support more Australians like Beth and give them the life-changing information and support that they need by going dry this July.
The money you raise by ditching alcohol for the month will help fund the life-changing work of the Leukaemia Foundation’s Blood Cancer Support Coordinators, who provide critical support services to people with blood cancer like Beth.
Having a month off alcohol has great health benefits, too, so you’re not only helping the blood cancer community, you’re also helping yourself. It’s the ultimate win-win!
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