Just 3 weeks after giving birth to my second child, I was diagnosed with AML Acute Myeloid Leukaemia). Then it all made sense, the cold sweats, the extreme tiredness and bruising, all of this I had put down to becoming a new Mum. The doctors sent me for a blood test; after it showed my blood counts were abnormal I then had to have a bone marrow. I will never forget this day. I remember being sat on the hospital bed breastfeeding my baby when a man in a smart suit walked in. Little did I know that he was going to become my cancer consultant, a man I would be putting my whole faith in? He told me that the results from the bone marrow were not good news, that I had a form of Leukaemia. I didn’t know anything about this disease, I had no idea what it meant but I knew it had a connection with cancer. My first question was “Am I going to die?” I was terrified, numb and shocked.
Just a couple of days later, I fed my baby for the last time and then started the chemotherapy. I knew I had to have the chemo to give myself a chance of surviving this illness but I knew I was going to lose my hair and feel so ill. I did lose my hair but I managed to keep the sickness at bay.
I had 4 courses of chemotherapy, each different. It involved staying in isolation which was part of the battle. I had no immune system so staying in isolation lowered the risk of catching an infection which could end up fatal. Isolation for almost 6 months (with just a few days out) was tough, I felt I was missing out on so much. I would watch as my friends and family would push my baby out in the pram I had chosen when I was expecting him. I would listen to my 6 year old as he told me about his school nativity play and all of the things he was doing, I missed being a Mum so much. It broke my heart to say goodbye to my little boy everyday and it never got any easier. It was then that it made me realise that I had taken everything for granted; I promised myself that if I survived, I would never complain about reading a bedtime story, doing the school run or playing football again!
The worse time for me was when I caught a hospital bug, C Diff. I have never felt so ill and I hope I never feel like that again. It took a long time to get over but I kept fighting as I knew I had 2 children that needed me.
It was at this time that I decided to start up a charity, to help others with Leukaemia. I knew I had to make something positive come out of this. I started work on some fundraising events whilst in hospital and the charity was up and running in February 2006.
Eventually the end of the treatment had arrived. The chemo had worked but it was now just about waiting, resting and keeping as well as I could. I had dreamed about going home, being a Mum again and doing the ‘normal’ everyday things that I had so missed. If only it had been that easy. I was so weak and still ill and going home was not as easy as I had expected. It was a difficult time. The running of the house had changed and I felt like a stranger in my own home. I was frustrated that I couldn’t do what I had hoped; I was desperate to get back to my old self.
With huge amounts of support from my wonderful family and friends, day by day I was getting stronger. My hair was starting to grow and I was beginning to look more and more like my old self. I had to return to the hospital every 3 months for bone marrow checks, each time the results were improving.
The best way I can describe my illness is that it felt like a rollercoaster ride, good days and bad days. I had a focus, I had to survive for my children and I believe that helped, even at the lowest times.
Two years after my treatment I asked my consultant if I could try for a baby, he said that I was healthy enough but not to hold out much hope as the chemo can make you infertile. I missed out on my baby’s first 6 months and I was desperate to have another baby. Miraculously, just 4 weeks later I was pregnant!!! I was well looked after during my pregnancy and in September 2008 I gave birth to my third son. He really is my miracle baby!
In August 2009, I was extremely lucky to have been given the all clear! I feel healthy and full of life. My experience has shown me that there can be life after cancer, it has shown me what is important and I will never take life for granted again.
I have set up a charity called Leaf (www.leafcharity.com) which sends families on holidays and days out to give them some well needed quality time together. We also provide practical help around the home to recently discharged patients as well as health club memberships to rebuild strength, stamina and confidence. We also fund study courses for local nurses, support the Dorset Cancer Centre and make regular donations to Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.
In March 2011 Leaf celebrated its 5th year which makes me very proud.
I feel very grateful to be alive and I would like to think I give other sufferers hope. I would love to share my story to hopefully inspire people that there really can be life after cancer!!
By Natasha Jones