Teresa’s leukaemia relapsed just days before her 50th birthday. It was devastating. “I almost cancelled my party that weekend. But then, I was like ‘No, it’s worth celebrating.’ And I’m so glad that I did.”
Teresa hosted a party with all her loved ones around her, despite how raw the news of her relapse felt. It didn’t spoil the night. “I had the best time with all my favourite people around me. We danced, we cried and we had fun.”
“Then, I went into hospital on Monday.”
Teresa’s leukaemia journey isn’t linear. Almost every challenging experience was followed by something positive. “I got out my journal last night, and I was reading what I went through…it was horrific. But in between, it was all about the people I met. The bad experiences blur as they are replaced with new ones.”
One of those bad memories is her initial diagnosis in 2016. Teresa had a rash on her leg, which she thought was a spider bite. Her dermatologist took biopsies, and didn’t find anything unusual. She wanted a second opinion and so she ordered blood tests.
“And my blood counts were abnormal. So they did a bone marrow biopsy.”
The tests came back and confirmed that Teresa had acute myeloid leukaemia. It was a Friday, and so she was then sent home for the weekend. She was asked to return on Monday, the 18th of July; her daughter’s birthday.
“That Monday, my family went out for breakfast, and we ate together. It was this really special day, because it prepared us as a family for the next five months of treatment.”
The treatment was harrowing, but Teresa got through it, and was back at work within months. She was even well enough to travel to London and Paris.
But by the following year, Teresa’s health took a downturn. She started to feel unwell just before her 50th birthday. She had relapsed.
“I actually forgot that they had been testing me for months before I found out. I read that in my notes.”
Perhaps this was another memory that has blurred.
“Finding out I had relapsed was devastating. I didn’t have this reaction the first time, I just went straight into survival mode. But, this time I felt deep pain.”
Teresa’s daughter had planned to visit her in hospital, but as a student with a part-time job, she couldn’t afford it. This is when Teresa’s doctor referred her to LBC.
Teresa met with Sally, the LBC Support Services Coordinator for the Central Region.
“I explained my daughter’s situation to Sally, and she said, ‘We can give her food and parking vouchers to make it easier on her’. She was so grateful for that.”
“And when Nicki joined Sally’s team, Nicki would ring me to check in. I find it hard to reach out, so I really appreciated that.”
Teresa still has a great relationship with Nicki, and she regularly attends her support groups.
Next, Teresa decided that she wanted to make one last special memory before going through her stem cell transplant.
“I went on a short holiday to Hawke’s Bay with my son and husband. It was a special time for us to enjoy nature together, and to have a few days’ reprieve from treatment.”
Teresa walked up Te Mata Peak, and she enjoyed a swim at Waihi Beach. She remembers watching her son playing in the sand, and contemplating how grateful she was for her family.
Soon, her gratitude would deepen.
“If there could ever be a closer bond than what you already have with a sister…it’s receiving her stem cells. My sister was nervous about the transplant…but she’s the bravest in my family. She’s got guts. She didn’t even bat an eyelid about it.”
“It makes me emotional. She gave me life.”
This experience also taught her the value of keeping the right people in her circle.
“I didn’t have the headspace for anyone who couldn’t take me as I was. There was no ‘being brave’ this time. I knew how sick I could get and the humility one needs to have because you lose so much dignity in hospital with what your body is going through.”
“Only certain people can cope with that. People who love you.”
This is one of the lessons that Teresa has learned, now that she has fully recovered. But her biggest takeaway is this:
“I will never again take for granted the little things. It’s the taste of food, the hugs from your kids, and the conversations I had with people along the way – other cancer patients, doctors, nurses and of course friends and family.”
“It’s going down and watching the ocean. At every stage of my treatment, those were the things that had the most impact on me.”