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GINA’S CAMPAIGN

Gina was diagnosed with a blood cancer called leukaemia. The following are Gina’s words, shared with the Leukaemia Foundation to help raise awareness of blood cancer for September’s World CML Day and Blood Cancer Awareness Month. You can share your story, too, by clicking here.

Many people are affected by cancer in someway whether it is yourself, a family member or friend, and every story is different.

My story began at 20 years of age. I was enjoying the simple pleasures in life: employed at the Warwick Daily News, playing sport, good friends and a great family.

Over a few months I had been feeling tired and would come home for lunch and lay on the lounge, exhausted. Mum said I looked very pale, suggesting I could be anaemic and should have a blood test.

I placed it down to playing a lot of sport and not enough sleep. Eventually though I had to go to the doctor for I had terrible stomach cramps.

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The doctor was thinking I may have endometritis [inflammation of the uterus lining], so I was given a blood test form and advised to go and have the tests after Christmas.

It was December 23, 1991, and I thought I may as well go and have the tests, not thinking anything could be wrong. How wrong I was.

The next morning, I went off to work and not long after Mum rang and told one of the office girls to tell me to wait out the front because she was coming into pick me up to take me to the doctor. I still didn’t think anything could be wrong with me. I thought something had happened to my dad or brother.

Arriving at the surgery the doctor called Mum and I into the room immediately, sat us down and said: “There is no easy way to tell you, Gina. I have received your blood test results back and you have a serious illness, leukaemia.”

There was silence.

My thoughts were of total disbelief.  I knew it was serious but what did this mean, what was going to happen, why did I have it, how did I get it? All these questions swamped me. We gathered as a family and went straight to Brisbane for treatment. I was to spend Christmas in hospital.

What they had found was my white blood cells had failed to mature properly and as a result had multiplied to 250,000, which had overpowered the normal cells in the bloodstream. Normal range is between 4,000 and 11,000.

Diagnosis was chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)

During the following months there were weekly blood tests, fortnightly visits to Brisbane and changes in medication to slow the progress down and make it easier to resort back to normal way of life.

I changed my doctor in Brisbane and went under the guidance of Dr Simon Durrant at the Royal Brisbane Hospital (RBH).  He informed me that a bone marrow transplant (BMT) was the best form of treatment for my illness [chronic myeloid leukaemia, or CML] and eventually blood tests were being taken to check my family for compatibility of the same bone marrow.

Mum from day one asked questions, researched and sent money to the Red Cross to search overseas to find me a donor.

I was to celebrate my 21st birthday in September 1992.  My brother and his wife had organised a party, but it had to be postponed three times. I was admitted to hospital with the concern my leukaemia had progressed.

Thankfully it was glandular fever.

July 22, 1993, the doctor decided who my donor was. My second cousin, Sandra Veitch, who was already on the bone marrow registrar, had been chosen.  Sandra was not fully compatible but was the closest match.  The only person in the whole world that could save my life was Sandra.  She never even hesitated and every time I see her I say thank you!

Accommodation near hospital

The date was set for the transplant but I asked if I could wait until the day after my birthday, which I also share with Mum.

Arriving in Brisbane on September 21, 1993,  Mum and Dad drove me to the Holy Spirit Hospital for the insertion of a Hickman, a central venous catheter inserted into my chest so that the veins are not used all the time.

At this stage there was no accommodation for Mum to stay at the Leukaemia Foundation units, so we booked into the Gregory Terrace Motel.

It was a concern for me because I knew it was going to be months that we were going to be in Brisbane and Mum was going to be with me the whole time.

When the Leukaemia Foundation rang and said there was a one-bedroom unit available at Herston Village, it was wonderful news.

The units are so close to the RBH, and Mum had people around her that were in the same position and understood what she was going through and I knew she was safe.

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