Raising your empathy 

“It was like a military operation, just trying to break the news!”  

Ian Scott had just received his chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) diagnosis, and he was trying to figure out how to tell his mum, who lives in the UK. 

“I phoned my siblings and said – ‘look, I need you to go to mum and dad’s house, and I’m gonna phone you there. Be there for when I tell her the news’.” Operation: Reveal the Diagnosis had begun. 

Ian knew the news would hit his mother hardest, considering the extensive toll that cancer has had on her family. In fact, this was one of the first things that ran through his mind when he was told by his haematologist that he had CML. 

He had the usual questions – like whether he now had a shortened life expectancy; the answer was no. He wondered how his job would be impacted. “I said, ‘What about work?’, and my haematologist said, ‘Look, sorry to break it to you, but you’re still going to be working!’” 

It turned out that Ian’s CML is manageable, thanks to recent developments in treatment. “I thought to go on treatment, you go on chemo. You don’t know what you don’t know, right? The natural thinking, is you get cancer, you have chemo.” 

But he didn’t need chemo. Instead, he was prescribed a drug called Imatinib. Prior to his diagnosis, he spent an entire year struggling with shortness of breath and trouble with intense exercise. Imatinib helped him get all of that under control. 

Maintaining ‘control’ is a theme that sticks out in Ian’s story. Early in his diagnosis, he was given some practical advice that helped him navigate his journey. 

“Straight after the diagnosis, I freaked out. My boss calmed me down and gave me a process to follow. He helped me to put structure around how I wanted the conversation with my mum to go. And we talked about the value of good information – avoid Google and Facebook!” 

Ian learned the importance of meeting other patients. He attended an LBC conference where he was able to connect with other people living with CML. It put things into perspective. “Their stories were far more troublesome. They had been to hell and back, some of these people.” 

This wasn’t the first time that Ian had been involved with LBC. He participated in past fundraising activities like the Step Up Challenge Sky Tower in 2014. ”Somebody organised that at work and I thought, ‘yeah, they look like a good group of people to support.’” And, since receiving his CML diagnosis, he has continued to support LBC in an advisor role, joining the LBC Consumer Advisory Board in 2019. 

As a senior manager at a recruitment company, Ian knows just how important it is to make genuine human connections with people, especially when you share a major life challenge.  

“It raises your empathy, it raises your understanding, and it raises your care factor.” 


Fast Facts: Chronic myeloid leukaemia

  • About 50 people are diagnosed a year 
  • Most people with CML have a gene mutation (change) called the ‘Philadelphia’ chromosome
  • Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) are the initial treatment of choice for most people with CML. Imatinib (also known as ‘Gleevec’ or ‘Glivec’), a TKI, was called a ‘magical bullet,’ when it revolutionized the treatment of CML in 2001. 


You are enough for your child

“The doctor called me while I was on my bike ride. She said that Ayla’s white blood cells were low, and I just knew. I had a breakdown on the side of the road and I said to her – ‘It’s cancer, isn’t it?” 

“She said, ‘well, we don’t know, and I can’t confirm that but it sounds likely based on her symptoms and her blood results’” 

Yvonne was talking to her doctor about her 6-year-old daughter, Ayla. The school holidays had just ended, and Ayla had been dealing with fatigue and a persistent cough. It seemed like a mild cold and nothing to worry about. 

“But we started thinking, when she didn’t seem well enough to go to school, and even that day, tossing up whether to send her or not…” 

Yvonne takes a deep breath, holding back tears. “We thought – OK, she’s not well enough to go to school. Maybe the fatigue isn’t linked to the cold.” 

Yvonne and her partner Nathan took Ayla to their GP, who noticed small bruises on her body. She checked her lymph nodes, then her liver, and immediately got on the phone with the hospital to discuss the symptoms. Blood samples were sent off urgently. 

This is when their whole lives changed. Ayla was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). Then, ten days later, Yvonne’s father lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. 

“I’m really upset that he had to find out about Ayla’s diagnosis before he died. And he didn’t get to see the good outcome on the other end, which we are well on our way towards now.” 

“I’ve accepted it – mostly – day to day, but there are still moments where I think, is this real? Sometimes I think: I can’t believe I have a child with cancer…I can’t believe Ayla has cancer.” 

Whereas for Ayla, she processed the diagnosis differently. “She deals with things quietly, but then goes away to think. And she comes back with the most amazing things that make you say – yup, you get it.” 

For example, Ayla immediately bonds with people who have nasogastric tubes (feeding tubes), even if they don’t have cancer. She knows some sign language, which was useful at one point when her body shut down, and she almost stopped talking completely. Her signing was a useful tool to communicate with her parents. 

Communication was important, and Yvonne is grateful of LBC’s Super Kids’ Club for facilitating connections for Ayla. “It’s so helpful for Ayla to have contact with other children with leukaemia.” 

“In the first Super Kids’ Club session, she opened up much more than usual. She asked the other kids whether they also had hair loss, and whether they had nasogastric tubes too…things that took her a long time to come to terms with for herself.” 

LBC gave the family a picture book called Joe Has Leukaemia, which was immediately helpful for Ayla’s brother Mikah. Whilst it took some time for Ayla to engage with it, it helped her do something incredible when she finally did. 

“She wrote her own book called Ayla Has Leukaemia. And when she went back to school, she read it to her class to explain to them what was going on.” 

Yvonne could also write a book of everything she has learnt. But her advice for other parents is simple. “Trust that you will learn how to navigate all these things. Know that you’re enough for your child. You might not be perfect, but all they need is for you to be there. All the other stuff? You’ll learn.” 

As Yvonne says this, she pauses and attends to Ayla, who is playing with a toy. It’s a profound moment which shows that despite having ALL, Ayla is not just a patient but she is a normal seven-year-old girl, who wants to be a kid. And Yvonne is more than a nurse or a carer for Ayla, but she is a mum doing her best. This is not something that Ayla’s cancer could ever take away from their family. 

“It’s been such a big lesson in learning to say to myself: What’s happening right now? When I get carried away. I think – ok, well she’s actually having a really good day. Things are really good at the moment.” 

“So, focus on that and enjoy what we’re doing right now.” 

Fast Facts: Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

  • Affects around 65 New Zealanders each year 
  • Majority of cases are under 5-years-old
  • More common in boys – around 75% diagnosed are male. 


Neil Brownlie has recently finished treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML); but he has faced more hurdles at age 37 than most people encounter in a lifetime.

The first occurred ten years ago when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“I did some treatment, but I wasn’t staying in hospital or anything like that. I went every couple of weeks to get some chemo and radiation.”

Only five years later, cancer reared its ugly head once again.

“I got Burkitt’s lymphoma, an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and I had to stay in hospital to treat that. I was only getting chemo at that time, but I was in hospital for around six months. It was a pretty long stay.”

After surviving two different cancers, Neil was facing issues with his employment.

“Before I got sick, I was working for myself. But now I’m not quite up to the physical rigours of what I had been doing.”

When speaking about LBC, Neil says that this was an area where he could lean on Deb, the Support Services Coordinator in Dunedin, and her team for advice and support.

“With just my partner working, it was difficult, especially when I was the higher income earner. The financial support LBC gave to my family, like food and fuel vouchers, really helped.”

In January of 2020 – Neil was back in Dunedin Hospital undergoing even more chemotherapy. This time, the diagnosis was different. Although he’d already overcome two forms of lymphoma, he was now being treated for AML.

“I went in and had treatment for about four months, and then I had to go and get a stem-cell transplant. For the stemcell transplant, I went up to Christchurch Hospital and stayed up there for just shy of four months as well.”

While receiving treatment for AML, Neil encountered a unique problem. Throughout his three rounds of cancer, he had already had the maximum amount of a number of chemotherapy drugs that one person is allowed to receive in their lifetime. Yes, this is something that can happen in New Zealand.

“They kind of just gave me what chemo they could but kept dropping them as I had reached their limit.”

On top of all that, Neil’s most recent treatment was happening during 2020 – the year COVID-19 spread around the globe.

“When the country went into lockdown for six weeks, I wasn’t allowed to leave my hospital room or have visitors, which included my wife and kids. Before that, I would walk around the hospital ward and go for a wander outside occasionally, but I wasn’t allowed to leave my room for those six weeks. So, that was an extra challenge.”

It was while the nation was facing the global pandemic that Neil underwent his stem-cell transplant.

“They got rid of the cancer before I even went to Christchurch for the transplant. The problem was, because they couldn’t give me all of the chemo drugs; there was no way it was going to stay away.”

Amazingly though, he has come out on the other side and is now only on the necessary post-transplant medication.

“I have had no sign of cancer coming back.”

Neil’s story is one of hope and focussing on the positive, but also thinking outside the box. During all of this journey, Neil had to re-evaluate what his next move could be workwise, as he could not work as a qualified electrician due to the physical nature of the job. This didn’t stop Neil. What he did was head back to school to upskill his knowledge and qualify to do something new.

“Id looked into studying, not sure what I was going to do. I didn’t want to throw all of my electrical experience out the door. However, it just so happened that since there is such a shortage of electrical engineers in the country, the Government made it so that the course is free for the next two years. It saved me about 10,000 dollars a year in fees. So basically, when I saw that, I was like, this is my opportunity.”

Armed with a new lease on life, Neil says there is another major factor in tackling challenges as they arise.

“I believe that attitude has a large chunk to do with success. The worst-case scenario is always there, but if you dwell on it, it creates a lot of anxiety, whereas if you let things play out, it usually ends up not being as bad as you thought it was. You’ve got to try to stay positive.”


Today, Keil Guthrie is a happy and ambitious 11-year-old boy, who has dreams of becoming a pilot. When looking at his bright smile, you would never guess that he has already faced the challenge of a lifetime – a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).

His father, Kriston, says that the story of his son’s cancer journey started with a football trip that his brother was on in July 2019, during which Keil’s neck began to swell.

“Quite a few people had the flu on this trip, and we thought he might have a bit of the flu or something similar.”

 Kriston said that when his son’s neck started to swell on the other side, they decided they needed to go back to the doctor. The doctor ran tests to try and determine what
was going on with Keil. As the family waited for his results, Kriston remembers Keil had back-to-back rugby games one weekend that left him exhausted.

“We took him back into the doctors, and they sent us up to the hospital for tests, and then we went home. They then told us to come back in – I think it was a Thursday. There was a paediatrician over from Christchurch, and she took one look at him, and she goes, ‘I’m sorry to say, but there’s a 99% chance that he could have leukaemia.’”

The Guthrie family was understandably devastated at this news. Even though Keil was only ten years old at the time of his diagnosis, the gravity of the situation was not lost on him. Kriston says that his son’s reaction to the news was gut-wrenching.

“Keil was sitting there listening, and he goes ‘Dad, I don’t want to die.’”

As hard as those words must have been to hear, the Guthries bound together and fought against the situation in the same way – as a family. While their son was undergoing treatment at Christchurch Hospital, Kriston and his wife, Melia, had to balance work and supporting their other two children, Payton and Keton. Keil’s two siblings lived in Greymouth with their grandparents during this challenging time, as Melia spent ten months with Keil, in hospital.

The hospital said “after those ten months, because he had gone through most of the cycles, that we could go home for brief periods. So, he was coming home for, say, five days, and then he would spend two weeks over there, at the hospital. He got onto the maintenance programme after twelve months.”

When asked about LBC, Kriston said that Christchurch-based Support Services Coordinator, Matt Eby was in touch right after Keil’s diagnosis and provided invaluable

“He offered us the support we wanted, and he would always check up on us and invite us around to have a yarn and that. He did a wonderful job. I don’t know if you realise it makes such a big difference, just having different people to talk to. Especially when they have a good understanding of what you are going through.”


In 2018 Peter was working as the curator at Black’s Point Museum in Reefton and looking forward to retirement. He hadn’t been to his GP for a while so decided to go for a routine check-up and blood test.

The GP noticed a  problem with Peter’s blood and referred the results to a haematologist in Christchurch. He got a report back and called Peter in to talk about it, as Peter explains: “The GP told me I had chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) – it was a shock. He explained it might be years before I would need treatment, I remember feeling annoyed at the time because I wanted it to be fixed but put it to the back of my mind and carried on with life.”

Peter had regular blood tests to keep track of the progress of his CLL. At the beginning of last year, just 12 months after his initial diagnosis, his blood markers started to increase: “The haematologist told me that things were
progressing more quickly than expected and I would need to start chemotherapy right away.”

Peter had six months of chemotherapy – traveling to Greymouth regularly from his home on the family farm: “I started chemo in May and finished in October – the first few rounds were OK but it got harder as it went along. When I came out of the last chemo I felt like an old man –but I got through it and I’m starting to get my strength back now.”

When Peter was in Greymouth for his treatment he met up with LBC’s Matt Eby as he explains: “It was great meeting Matt, I could sit comfortably with a cuppa and talk to him about anything – it was a nice little sanctuary to go to!”

Matt let Peter know about support that was available but one of the best pieces of advice he received was from a friend who suggested he write down some of the things that had happened in his life: “I am a typical Kiwi bloke and didn’t always deal with my emotions well, but I found if I wrote things down it helped me come to terms with things.”

Peter continues to have three monthly blood tests and so far everything is heading in the right direction, as he explains: “I do realise I have leukaemia and it will come back one day but I have accepted
it, I could go another 20 years so there is no point worrying about it. I have goals and enjoy the important things in life like friendships and family and working on my land.”


When David started to experience chest pains, blood cancer was the last thing on his mind.

David’s GP was able to reassure him that his pain wasn’t heart-related and did some blood tests which showed that David’s neutrophils were low – he recommended a re-test in a month’s time. David’s neutrophils were still low and the GP again recommended a re-check which showed a similar result. Eventually, David was referred to a specialist. Once David saw the specialist he was given the news that he had acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). As he explains: “When I got the initial blood results I had done some research online and thought I had chronic leukaemia – so  when the specialist told me it was AML it wasn’t a total surprise. My wife Elaine was with me and it hit her harder than me. I asked the doctor how long I would have if I decided not to have treatment and he said “about three months” – that really shocked the family.”

David and Elaine weighed up the pros and cons of treatment and decided it was a better option to proceed, he explains: “We looked at the percentage success rate and it was clearly a better option for me to go with treatment.  The specialist said that the first two years after treatment were touch and go as lots of things could go wrong but if I got past that the chances of a longer life extended all the time.”

David’s treatment began a few days later in Wellington Hospital with his first round of chemotherapy. He spent most of the next three months in hospital with just a few days’ break between each round of treatment. As he explains: “I’d never been in hospital before so I didn’t know what to expect but I tried to keep a normal routine – I got up and dressed so I wasn’t in my pyjamas all day and got some exercise by walking up the stairs a few times each day.”

It wasn’t all plain sailing as David experienced adverse reactions to drugs, infection and, just after his first round of chemo, his wife Elaine became unwell with a brain lesion that doctors initially thought might be cancer: “Elaine was on Level 7 of the  hospital and I was on Level 5 – thankfully Elaine is on the road to recovery now – but it was a really difficult time for the family.”

David has a strong, positive spirituality which helped him during his cancer, he explains: “My faith is important to me and the idea of my own death wasn’t so frightening because for me, death is not the end of life but more the end of a chapter, and a new chapter begins.”

David needed a stem cell transplant – thankfully his brother in the UK was a match and travelled over to New Zealand to be his donor. Things progressed well, and David’s transplant was a success – his cancer was put into remission. David has just started his third year in remission and reflects on his cancer journey: “It’s amazing to consider what has happened to my body and how the  doctors have carefully navigated my cancer with all its possible pitfalls. I’m very grateful to be in my third year of remission with the possibility of more as my body continues to gradually regain strength. The things that were  key in my journey were having a strong positive spirituality and the joy of having family close. Also the ability to eat good food, especially curries from the local restaurants near the hospital!…..and the thought of another family Christmas, this next one will be my third.”


In 2015, Whakataerangi (Tae) Mason thought she was a little run down, but the cows on her dairy farm knew something was very wrong with her.

Born and raised in Rotorua, Tae had spent the last 17 years working as a dairy farmer with her husband. No stranger to hard physical work, Tae didn’t let a severe toothache and fatigue slow her down. She had got antibiotics from the dentist, but refused to see a doctor even though her toothache persisted and her husband was insistent.

Then one morning in the milking shed, she found herself without the strength to walk. Her husband took her to their doctor and, at his recommendation, onto Taupo Hospital Emergency Department.

When the emergency doctor saw the dark bruises all over her body, he asked her husband to leave the room before asking her what happened.

“I explained to him that over the past two to three weeks, the pregnant cows were kicking me every opportunity they got,” says Tae.

“After examining me, he said, ‘Tae, I believe you’. He ordered a full set of tests and asked my husband to come back; telling him, ‘you either have very evil or very intuitive cows.’”

By the evening of the same day, Tae was in Waikato Hospital receiving her first round of chemotherapy for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

Three rounds of chemotherapy in as many months slowed down the AML, but only a stem cell transplant could offer a cure. Referred to a consultant at Auckland Hospital, Tae needed to find a suitable donor. Her youngest brother was the closest match, but not perfect and there was a chance of complications. As a family, they decided it was worth the risk.

On Waitangi Weekend, Tae was admitted to Auckland Hospital and woke the next morning with a serious infection. To everyone’s surprise, investigations revealed that Tae had been born with only one kidney.

This placed her transplant in jeopardy because of the strain it would place on her sole kidney. Her consultant in Auckland wanted to know more about Tae to help make the decision. It was her husband that offered his insights on Tae.

“My husband told her that I had been a dairy farmer for many years and never had a work day off. He said, ‘every year she calves a thousand cows, and picks up 500 calves during calving season, feeds and raises 500 calves every year, and she’s built like a brick house’.

“At that point the consultant looked at us both, smiled and said, ‘OK you two, we’re going to do this. Tae, you be ready for a rough ride.’”

Three months after her transplant in February 2016, Tae was up and running around, but then the complications hit.

“I caught every bug known to man. I was being given blood transfusions every week. I was a day stay patient every second day, using between one and two units of whole blood weekly.”

Two and a half years have passed and Tae now goes to see her specialist once a month.

“That will change to once every three months, then to six months and then once a year for reviews,” says Tae.

“I have no sign of AML. I have weaned off most of my medication, and I’m not far away from starting my immunisation programme, mumps, measles, rubella, and so on. Just like a baby.”

Her husband as her primary caregiver was in her corner all the way, says Tae.

“If you don’t have a caregiver who understands what is going on with you, you can become your own worst enemy. It’s important your caregiver perseveres and acts on your behalf when you can’t,” says Tae.

Tae is grateful for the support and information that LBC gave to her and her husband, helping with transport, food vouchers, information and counselling.

Their LBC support services coordinator is now regarded as one of the family.

“Matt was excellent in giving my husband the tools to explain to friends and family about my condition. He taught him all the one liners, such as ‘it’s like when production breaks down in a factory.’ Before you knew it, everyone was an AML doctor,” says Tae with a laugh.

“Matt was also someone to talk to, and he introduced us to people who had gone or were going on a similar journey to us. In short, his support has meant that I have met lots of people who have turned into dear friends.”

Moving forward, Tae wants only to be healthy, happy and give back wherever she can.




True to her ‘Type A’ personality, when Fiona Beck was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukaemia, she chose to deal with it as another job to do.

Growing up in different towns in the South Island before moving to Rotorua and going to university in Hamilton, Fiona is used to a life on the go. Her career has taken her even further afield. For the past 17 years, Fiona has regularly commuted between Bermuda and New Zealand.

It was early 2016 when Fiona got an itchy rash on her legs. Arriving home in Wellington from Bermuda, she visited her local GP for a cream to soothe the irritation. She ordered routine blood tests as part of a general health check. Two days later, Fiona was in hospital.

Fiona clearly recalls her consultant telling her that he was going to give her the best kind of worse news.

“He said I had leukaemia, but one that now has one of the highest ‘cure’ rates. One that previously was always fatal.”

Her treatment for acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL) started immediately with a relatively new treatment protocol based on ATRA and daily intravenous rounds of Arsenic Trioxide.

“I handled the treatments well, overall. I had to contend with migraine headaches and then started to develop an irregular heart rhythm. And unbelievably dry skin – I was like a crocodile,” says Fiona.

Her partner of 33 years Dean helped break the news of her illness to family, friends and colleagues. By doing so, he allowed Fiona to focus on herself.

“Friends and family all care and want information. But it is hard for the patient to be the communicator-in-chief when you are trying to get through things in the early stages.”

Despite being 15,000 km away from Bermuda, Fiona continued her work for the America’s Cup. Being up at Wellington hospital for around six hours every day, she made good use of the Wi-Fi in the day clinic while receiving her treatment.

“I had a great team over there working with me, and I could remotely work, using video calls, emails and follow up in person when I went back to Bermuda, which I did in one of my three week breaks.

“The America’s Cup gave me something to focus on, a great goal and made me feel normal and connected,” she says.

After her treatment ended, Fiona returned to Bermuda to work closely on the 2017 America’s Cup event. The New Zealand America’s Cup team win was a personal highlight for her. She rates it as highly as the day she finished her treatment.

Fiona is grateful for the support she received from LBC’s Wellington Support Services Coordinator Sally Black.

“From providing information in the early stages to the support groups and sessions, like the Blood Cancer Patient Forum, it’s all been so helpful. Sharing your thoughts in meetings helps you cope and look out for one another.”

One of the most important lessons for Fiona was the knowledge that she was not alone.

“Cancer doesn’t care about age, status or wealth. It is the ultimate equaliser. But with great support and the right medical treatment people survive and go back to living their life, albeit changed by their experience.

“I am not really sure I understood what it meant to live each day until I had to face up to a life-threatening illness.”

In September 2017, Fiona took on the Great Wall of China Challenge adventure and raised funds for LBC.

“It ticked all the boxes – the Chinese were the first to use one of the drugs I’d had to treat APL, I needed a fitness goal for 2017, and it was for the best cause – my favourite charity LBC.

“It was fun, hard work, great friendships were created, and lots of money was raised.”


In 2015, two-year-old Devyn Tregurtha was a happy and healthy child so when she had an extremely high temperature for two weeks straight, her mum Bianca stared to worry.

Devyn went in and out of the emergency room and the doctors thought she possibly had a hip infection so she was admitted to hospital for a hip wash and then a bone marrow biopsy.

“The next day we got the results and a haematologist came in to talk to us. He told us Devyn’s hip was fine and she actually had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia”

Bianca works in the medical industry and says that she had heard a few things that made her think Devyn possibly had cancer but she didn’t voice her concerns to anyone.

“I remember the day she was diagnosed so clearly. I felt like I was dreaming,” says Bianca.

From the day of her diagnosis, Devyn spent a month in the hospital receiving treatment with Bianca by her side. Devyn picked up rotavirus when she first was admitted in the emergency room so she had to be isolated to her room the entire month.

Although she was only two at the time, Devyn had already started talking and Bianca says she was worried how Devyn would react to everything in the hospital and her treatments.

“She never complained once. She just went with everything and it really did make it so much easier on the family knowing she was ok with the new situation,” says Bianca.

When Devyn was able to go home after being in isolation she was technically in remission but the family knew she had a long road ahead of her with maintenance chemotherapy for another few years.

Bianca says they were lucky with the amount of overnight hospital stays they had to go through after the month in isolation and being at home with the rest of the family made a big difference.

Devyn’s older sister Luca was only five-years-old when Devyn was diagnosed and the change in family life and her routine was tough at first.

“When Devyn was in hospital for that first month, either my husband Ryan or I were with her which meant Luca never had us all together at home for a long time,” says Bianca.

Devyn’s diagnosis was a lot for Luca to understand and she became anxious that she would also get leukaemia like her sister. Bianca and Ryan did their best to explain to Luca that she couldn’t catch what her sister had and it was ok to be around her.

Bianca heard about Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand’s Kid’s Club for siblings and children of someone diagnosed with a blood cancer and says Luca went to her first group this year.

“Luca came home with an LBC diary to write or draw in. I was really surprised when I saw she had written a lot of questions to take to the group next time and they were things that I knew LBC could answer better than we could like ‘Why did Devyn get leukaemia?”

Both Ryan and Bianca had to take time off work when Devyn was diagnosed and although she tried to work one day a week, Bianca ended up leaving her job in order to be with Devyn daily through treatment.

“Ryan had to keep things rolling for the family as we still needed an income but his work were amazing and even threw fundraisers for us,” says Bianca

Two years later in mid-2017, Devyn has just finished her treatment and Bianca has been able to head back to work full time.

“I went back to work part time at first and at the same time Devyn started attending pre-school which she loves and I love being back at work so it’s been a great transition for us both!” says Bianca.

When she started at pre-school, Tim, the LBC Support Services Coordinator in Auckland, went and visited her class to explain why Devyn sometimes might not be there and what she had been through the past few years. Devyn also got given a ‘Monkey in my Chair’ to sit in her chair when she isn’t there.

Although Bianca says Devyn went through treatment ‘like a champ’, Devyn was very happy to hear she didn’t have to take medication daily anymore.

After an unexpected two years of supporting Devyn through her treatment, Bianca says she and Ryan now worry about normal things like any other young family which is a nice change.

“Now we instead of worrying about horrible things like cancer and treatment we worry about who will do the school pickups!” says Bianca.

“We just took it one day at a time and rolled with whatever came our way.”


In early 2016, Caroline Mountford found herself frequently visiting her doctor for multiple new health issues.

For over seven months her doctors could not work out what was wrong with her. After a multitude of tests they finally diagnosed her with acute myeloid leukaemia.

Caroline was usually in very good health but she started to suffer from severe pain in the bones in her forearms, continual swelling of her glands, problems with her fingers and stomach swelling. When her blood tests continued to come back showing nothing, Caroline would continue on with life  as best she could until problems arose again.

When she was nearly in tears at work with severe arm pain, Caroline ended up in the emergency room and was then finally diagnosed with AML.

“I was admitted to hospital right away and two days later it all started happening and I was having chemotherapy”

Caroline discovered that her blood tests never showed anything unusual because she had a genetic cell that prevented detection of a blood cancer.

“I was also diagnosed with budd-chiari syndrome – a very rare condition which was causing the ongoing stomach swelling due to a liver enlargement,” says Caroline.

With the added complication of the buddchiari syndrome diagnosis and her unique genetic cell makeup, Caroline knew her treatment and recovery might not be the same as others.

“I never wanted to read too much into all the information I was given as I knew it might be different for me. I just told my haematologist to do what was needed to be done,” says Caroline.

Caroline went through three rounds of chemotherapy and spent a month in hospital each time where her partner, Nigel and mother-in-law Maree, kept her company.

“I’m so lucky to have Maree. She came to the hospital every day to see me with a coffee and a muffin and would drive me to and from the hospital and appointments,” says Caroline.

Caroline and Nigel moved to New Zealand from Australia three years before her diagnosis and she says the visits from her parents and sister helped keep her positive and strong.

Caroline’s body reacted well to the chemotherapy and she was lucky to not experience any sickness or harsh side effects. When the time came for Caroline to undergo a stem cell transplant she had to make an advanced care plan which she says was the hardest part of the journey so far.

“With only a 40% chance of survival I knew I had to do the plan but that was the thing that really got to me,” says Caroline.

Despite the many side effects and complications she was told she might encounter after the transplant, Caroline’s body once again responded well and she was at home recovering within three weeks. It was three months after the transplant when she was meant to be getting better where Caroline began to deal with complications.

“I started to feel really sick and tired all the time and I had never felt like that before. I wondered if it was my body rejecting the donor cells from the transplant,” says Caroline.

Caroline’s doctor diagnosed the sudden sickness as a leg condition called polyradiculoneuropathy – an autoimmune neurological impairment. Caroline became so sick very quickly and was admitted to the neurology ward at Christchurch Hospital and suddenly lost all feeling in her legs, leaving her in a wheelchair.

“Going through chemotherapy and the transplant process wasn’t too difficult for me but being bound to a wheelchair and losing all my independence was definitely the lowest part of my journey,” says Caroline.

Caroline spent two months in the wheelchair while working with a physiotherapist to get the movement back in her legs. She then slowly moved to using a walker for another few months then to crutches before being able to walk properly again seven months later.

“I still have a bit of trouble with balance and I don’t have the full capabilities of walking but I don’t need any equipment to help me anymore and I got my independence back,” says Caroline.

When she started thinking about getting back to her job in insurance, Caroline says Ady Drummond, the Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand Christchurch Support Services Coordinator, was a huge support.

“Ady went with me to meet my boss and discuss what I had been through and helped us make a plan to ease me back into work. She was a fantastic support person,” says Caroline.

Despite facing challenges she never expected, Caroline says the journey has simply been another life experience and she has always believed that everything happens for a reason.

“I’ve always been quite a spiritual person and I sent a lot of positive thoughts out to the universe but I also made sure I had a cry when I needed,” says Caroline.

“Whatever comes along I know I will get through it. I can’t say when, but I know I will!”