Just over 3 years on from my original survivor story to The Sunflower Fund, I have yet another story to tell. After having my stem cell transplant on the 2nd December 2010, and being declared in remission end of February 2011, I relapsed 6 months later with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) with Monosomy 7. I knew it had happened, I could feel my body was not ‘feeling’ right. At the start of the relapse In August 2011, I had 96% donor cells left instead of a 100%. This was very worrying as my blood counts were dropping fast. At this stage I was on heavy Cortisone to try stabilize my blood counts while trying to get lymphocytes (white cells) from my donor in Germany. This is considered a ‘top’ up and could prevent further relapse. Unfortunately we could not get hold of the donor. We did a bone marrow biopsy nearly every month for 4 months, on the last biopsy it was decided I needed another transplant. I had less than 50% donor cells left and the leukaemia cells went up.
By April 2012, we were so fortunate to have found another donor in Germany -a female slightly younger than myself (I was 23 then). By this time I had less than 10% donor cells left and a high blast count. I first had to go for two induction chemotherapy sessions at Little Company of Mary. Each session consists of 11 bags of chemo (3 different types) in 7 days, with the one running 24/7. You are kept in isolation for 4-6 weeks each time. I had a few complications the first time, where my platelets were so low I was bleeding internally and there was a national shortage of platelets. Thankfully friends and family stepped in and we had a schedule of who donates for me on what day! I had a 3 week break, and my second chemo session went underway.
By September 2012 I was strong enough for my second bone marrow/stem cell transplant at Constantia Medi-Clinic in Cape Town. I thought the first one was rough… oh my. I was in isolation for 5 weeks and was very ill. By this time my body had so much chemotherapy, it was struggling. I was given a slim chance of surviving.
Today, January 2014, two unrelated stem cell transplants, a lot of chemotherapy and 14 bone marrow biopsies later, I am alive and doing fantastic! My hair re-growth is not normal, due to permanent damage from all the treatment, but my heart is beating.
I will acquaint you with a little twist to my story. Remember in my first post I mentioned that starting University was postponed to 2012? When I relapsed, I just got accepted to the University of Pretoria and my doctor said I would not be able to go to University as I will be in hospital a lot, well that didn’t stop me. I continued with University, missing over 16 weeks of class, with my central line and all, took my books into hospital with me, wrote a final exam a week after returning from Cape Town and finished off with 5/9 distinctions and passing the others very well. I am now going to 3rd year, and I am on perfect track with my fellow classmates to graduate in 2015. As they say, where there is a will, there is a way!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who has supported me. My friends, family, lecturers, The Sunflower Fund, The Niki Duarte Project, and of course my doctors! But the most important person on my list to thank, is my 2nd donor in Germany. Between you and I, we proved a miracle exists. By becoming a stem cell donor, you too can be part of a miracle.
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