Support a future where all New Zealanders have access to more effective, gentler and lower cost treatments
We research to understand how to use the immune system to fight disease.
We develop new immunotherapies to more effectively treat disease.
We are committed to taking our research into the community to provide treatment options for all.
The doctor told me there was some bad news – the chemo hadn’t worked, there were new tumours growing in my chest cavity. She said I would need “salvage chemo” and if that went OK then I could have high dose chemo and a stem cell (bone marrow) transplant to save my life. Then she said in an upbeat way “you still have a 50% chance”.
Fifty percent chance of dying didn’t sound like very good odds to me. My boys were two and four years old at the time. I remember thinking that Xavier, my youngest, might not even remember me.
The treatment ahead was intense. The stem cell transplant involved two tubes going in and out of my jugular vein, and all the blood in my body went through a machine three times and extracted some stem cells. I was then pumped with hard core chemotherapy drugs before I had my stem cells injected back into me.
The problem with this chemotherapy is that although it does a wonderful job of obliterating the cancer, it also obliterates a whole lot else including your immune system. With no immune system, your own bacteria makes you sick. During the 10 days it took for the stem cells to kick in, I got sepsis from a stomach infection. I couldn’t walk or eat. I had a fever but was shivering and my resting heart rate was over 100 for days on end. The whole treatment completely restarted my immune system so now I need all my childhood vaccinations again.
I remember that one of the doctors told me that in the future the treatment I’ve been through will be considered barbaric. Yet it still saved my life. I am delighted to say that I have now completed 15 months of treatment and my latest scan showed that I am cancer free – woohoo!
I’m obviously over the moon to not currently be dying. I’m feeling great! However, to quote Rocky Balboa, “the world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.”
The extreme treatment that I underwent has left me with scar tissue in my lungs, my liver isn’t working properly yet, I have ‘acute ovarian failure’ and I currently have a hairdo reminiscent of David Hasselhoff in Knight Rider.
That is why I am now doing all I can to support the new, exciting and less toxic cancer treatments on the horizon. Already such treatments are saving lives overseas, but they are out of reach for so many New Zealanders, including myself.
The Malaghan Institute are working hard to have these treatments here in New Zealand, so people like me facing life threatening disease will have kinder treatment options with potentially better odds of survival. As a charity, for the Malaghan to make this possible, they need all the support they can get.
I know the cancer monkey will be on my back for a while. I can’t just go “whew, glad that’s done and dusted.” Real life, unfortunately, isn’t as black and white as that. I will have to have scans, blood tests and check-ups for years and at any point the cancer could come back. But the longer I go with a clear scan the better – and the closer we get to different cancer options like CAR T becoming available, the brighter the future becomes
Life continues, but with a new sense of gratefulness and perspective.
I read this quote last year and it resonated with me. “When I was little and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say ‘Look for the helpers, you will always find people helping.’”
Thank you for reading my story and thank you for supporting life changing research.