When Shelley Woodney was celebrating her birthday in early 2015, a sore mouth and gums meant she couldn’t enjoy her food and she headed to bed feeling unwell.
After two days in bed, Shelley ended up in hospital. Two specialists diagnosed her with tonsillitis but after having blood tests, she was told a haematologist was coming to speak to her.
“The haematologist came in and told me I had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. I started treatment right away and didn’t leave the hospital for the next 10 days,” says Shelley.
Shelley spent 12 weeks having chemotherapy and blood transfusions which she says started out well although she did have to spend time in and out of the hospital.
“The hardest thing for me was knowing when I was too sick and should go to the hospital. I think there were a few times where I shouldn’t have waited so long,” says Shelley.
Once she finished her treatment, Shelley was given the choice to have a stem cell transplant.
“I cried non-stop for days when I was deciding whether to have the transplant. I just didn’t want to do it but I also knew it was my best chance of survival so I decided to go for it,” says Shelley.
Shelley was meant to have six weeks at home to rest and prepare for her transplant but a bout of pneumonia struck her down after only five days at home. This meant she went into her stem cell transplant not as strong as she would have liked.
Donor cells from Germany arrived for Shelley’s transplant and although it was a little later than planned, her transplant went smoothly.
Just eight days after her transplant, Shelley was so unwell in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) that the doctor advised her to bring her children in to see her.
“It was the middle of the night and I said we wouldn’t call them until the morning because I just wasn’t going die and that was that!” says Shelley.
Although she knew the odds of coming out of the ICU were slim, Shelley was determined to recover.
Shelley recovered slowly from her stem cell transplant and was given the news that she was in remission. She says it was when she got home and into a new routine that she felt the most alone.
“When you’re sick in hospital you have so many people surrounding you. Then I got home and all of a sudden it was just me again,” says Shelley.
The road to recovery was not easy for Shelley who developed a severe case of graft versus host disease which aﬀected multiple parts of her body and left her skin in a painful rash.
Shelley now takes steroids daily to manage her graft versus host disease and deal with the pain of constant ulcers and blisters in her mouth.
“I know that long term steroid use isn’t great for the body but I would rather a better quality of life day to day,” says Shelley.
The psychological eﬀects of her diagnosis was one of the hardest things for Shelley to deal with but making friends with other patients made a huge diﬀerence.
“When I talk to any of them and they ask how I am, I know that they genuinely want to know. They’re the ones who actually understand what I’m going through and I think it’s so important to have those kind of people to talk to,” says Shelley.
As well as sharing her experiences with other patients, Shelley started a blog to keep her family and friends updated on her progress.
Shelley had already started journaling and decided to put her thoughts online after so many people seemed interested in her journey.
“I wanted to show the in-depth side of treatment to hopefully teach others about the process and possibly help someone else prepare who might be going through something similar” says Shelley.
It took Shelley a while to settle back into her work part time but says she just had to ‘find her groove’ and it now feels like she never left.
“People say you need to find a ‘new normal’ when you get back into your old life but I think it’s a whole new me because my life will never really be ‘normal’ again,” says Shelley.
Shelley’s journey hasn’t been an easy one but she says if she was given the chance to take it all back, she wouldn’t if it meant giving up the relationships she has formed and the experience she has gained.
“On my bad days I ask myself if it was worth it but then on my good days I’m so proud of myself for making it through,” says Shelley.
“Before I was diagnosed I was just doing life, now I feel like I am really living life!”