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.