After being struck down with numerous infections, 61-year-old Debbie Neary says it never entered her mind that she may have cancer.
When her specialist rang and wanted to see her in person, Debbie didn’t fear the worst.
“I thought I had a heart problem because I felt so out of breath all the time.”
Debbie was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). She was so shocked her specialist then had to ring her husband Eric to deliver the news.
I knew nothing about leukaemia, I didn’t even think it was a cancer.
However by 4pm that afternoon she was in hospital starting her first round of blood transfusions.
After further tests there was also the extra shock of finding out that Debbie also had chronic leukaemia.
Debbie and Eric made the decision to undergo treatment which was available through a clinical trial.
Lynne, Debbie’s sister, was a continual support and flew back and forth as much as she could from Australia to be with Debbie. She was also the donor for Debbie’s stem cell treatment.
“I think some of Lynne has rubbed off on Debbie and her voice even sounds more like her sister since the transplant,” laughs Eric.
Although she stayed positive, Debbie was upset to miss out on important family occasions and other key events while she was in hospital such as the Rugby World Cup and the royal wedding of William and Kate.
“Luckily the nurses at the hospital were just as excited and gave me regular updates about Kate’s wedding dress!” says Debbie.
The diagnosis was a shock to their tightknit family but Eric took it the hardest.
“I was absolutely devastated at the thought of possibly losing my soul mate.”
Although Eric dropped everything to be with Debbie, he found it hard to stay positive. Eric admits that for a few months he became angry as he could not believe that something like this was happening to them.
However he realised he needed to remain optimistic to help Debbie through.
Without a good sense of humour you are lost.
“When Debbie was in treatment, sometimes in her haze she would say something really, really funny and we would all end up laughing. It was so important to see humour in every day.”
“If I didn’t have Eric coming in every day and cheering me up everything would have been so much harder,” says Debbie.
Almost one year after being diagnosed, Debbie was told she was in remission.
“I don’t think I will ever truly believe it! After every blood test I still anxiously wait by the phone but as more time passes I become more hopeful.”
Nearly three years since their leukaemia journey began, Debbie and Eric now live very differently.
“I don’t stress about the little things anymore because I just don’t care about them how I used to,” says Debbie.
Debbie and Eric have been working on ticking things off their bucket list as well as adding more to it as they go. This includes seeing the White Cliffs of Dover in England and buying a classic Mustang coupe.
The couple are hoping to go on an Alaskan cruise for their next trip.
“The cruise has always been Debbie’s dream and she could never convince me. But now I think we need to do it together!” says Eric.
Debbie says the LBC support groups and meeting others who have also been through tough times helps put it all into perspective.
It really does help being able to sit and talk to others about how you feel.
The couple both can’t stress enough how important it is for the caregiver/support person to actively seek support for themselves which LBC also provides.
The Neary’s praise every health professional that they came across throughout Debbie’s treatment.
“They were the spark in the darkness that helped you see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
“From the doctors, nursing staff and the team at LBC right through to the ladies who made Debbie cups of tea and brought me one too,” says Eric.