On Valentines’ Day 2018, I was diagnosed with Leukaemia ALL B Cell Philadelphia Positive – a rare and aggressive form of cancer. I went to the see a local Melbourne GP after feeling unwell for about a month; however, I didn’t think my symptoms were all that serious. My symptoms were a cold with a barking cough, night sweats which became continuous throughout the day as time progressed, a faint purple dotted rash on my chest and legs, fatigue, muscle soreness, heavy menstrual period and nose and mouth bleeds.
Once I explained these symptoms to the GP, he urged me to go straight to Emergency as there was likely something wrong with my blood composition. He explained it could be Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), and Lymphoma or Leukaemia were also possibilities. I went straight to Emergency and a simple blood test confirmed that I had Leukaemia.
Prior to my diagnosis, I considered myself a perfectly healthy and fit 26-year-old female with no prior medical history. I had never even been admitted to hospital, let alone an oncology ward! In the events of that fateful day, I went from a relatively normal 20-something-year-old to a likely infertile, cancer patient.
Despite responding well to chemo with minimal complications, it was decided that I would undergo an allogenic stem cell transplant from an unrelated donor, due to my ALL subtype. The path to transplant was not smooth sailing. In May 2018, a German donor was ruled unfit to donate 10 days prior to my transplant admission. My transplant was put on hold for 8 weeks until another suitable donor was able to donate their stem cells.
I spent 36 days in The Alfred for my transplant with the majority of that being confined to the isolation of my room in July 2018. I had full myeloablative conditioning (chemo and full body radiation) for my transplant. Despite being cancer free, I experienced debilitating side effects for many months following my transplant.
I am now 20 months post-transplant and my life is slowly returning to my new normal. While I was fortunate enough to be treated at one of Australia’s leading tertiary teaching hospitals, the Alfred; being the only young adult in an entire ward brought up its own challenges.
I was often forced to share a room with much older and sicker oncology patients which I found extremely confronting. I was also forced to deal with side effects which are uniquely distressing to young adults – loss of fertility, early menopause, steroid induced osteoporosis and changes in physical appearance.
While I still enjoy many of things I enjoyed prior to my diagnosis, it is now vitally important to me that I continue to raise awareness for cancer and its implications, particularly those affecting young adults. I am so pleased to be able to support the Dry July initiative and give something back to the organisations that supported me.