Sonya Cuff has lived with rheumatoid arthritis for over twenty years and has always focused on keeping herself as healthy as possible. When she began losing weight in 2008, Sonya didn’t think anything of it until people started to comment that she was too thin and she started to think there might be something serious going on.
Sonya’s rheumatologist noticed her ESR counts were far too high and had her undergo a bone marrow biopsy which showed Sonya had myeloma.
“Before I got the diagnosis I had this feeling that I had cancer. I think in my heart I already knew,” says Sonya.
When Sonya’s haematologist told her she did not need to start treatment right away she decided to travel while she still could.
“I called my brother in Malaysia and said I needed to get out so I headed off to see him then to Abu Dhabi with my cousin and dear friend Sandy,” says Sonya.
It was two years before Sonya needed treatment and she says it was the first time in her life she felt terrified.
“I felt I needed to protect myself as much as I could from broken bones or getting sick. I let it control me and then I realised I had wasted two years and I wouldn’t let myself live like that again,” says Sonya.
Sonya finally started chemotherapy in January 2013, then six months later she underwent a stem cell transplant and struggled with the effects on her body such as weight gain from steroids.
“Of course with the chemo I lost my hair which to me wasn’t the worst thing. I actually still felt like a rock star!”
After her transplant, Sonya’s legs were so weak that she had to learn how to walk again and she looked to numerous alternative therapies while recovering. Slowly, with the help of an acupuncturist, a massage therapist and a chiropractor, Sonya was able to regain strength in her legs and was even able to start practising Bikram yoga once again.
“Seeing a physiotherapist and having acupuncture regularly was incredible for minimising the pain I was in and I was able to get so much strength back in my body,” says Sonya.
The support from not only her close friends and family but also from her specialists has been a huge help for Sonya who says she often struggles to ask for help. Sonya’s chiropractor would often come to her house if she was too unwell as would her massage therapist and her friends were always ringing or dropping by to check on her.
Sonya was in remission for a year before having to start chemotherapy once again and says her mental health suffered hugely from the treatment which lasted nine months.
Although she says she is mostly a fun loving person, Sonya recognised she was struggling and took herself off to a ten day silent retreat in Northland.
“I realised I had a real anger in my heart and after ten days it lifted and I came away with a brighter view on my future. I’m so grateful for the time it gave me to restructure my thinking and realise what was important in my life,” says Sonya.
Sonya also had a lot of support from Amanda, the Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand Support Services Coordinator in the Waikato at the time, who Sonya says was a ray of sunshine.
Not being able to work meant she struggled financially to support herself and her son but LBC were there to support her with food and petrol vouchers when she needed it.
“Without both the financial and emotional support of LBC I’m not sure I would be as positive as I now am,” says Sonya.
Sonya has also been supported closely by Matthew Eby, the current Support Services Coordinator in the Waikato who she says now feels like a good mate more than anything else.
“Matt is an amazing support. He’s always interested in what I am doing and he always makes me feel valued,” says Sonya.
Sonya now focuses on keeping herself well through her complementary therapies while also taking medication daily.
“For me, doing all these holistic things is about getting in touch with myself so I can then say ‘I’ve got this’,” says Sonya.
Knowing she will always have myeloma does not change Sonya’s positivity since deciding she would not let it control her or her outlook on life.
“I know it will be with me for life but I just choose not to look at it like that. I forget I have cancer half of the time because I always put on a friendly grin and get on with it!”