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Fiona's Story

Otago

With two young children, her own business and a part-time job, Fiona from Mosgiel couldn’t afford to be ill. So when she began feeling really tired, lost her appetite and just couldn’t shake off a cold, she went along to the doctor, hoping to pick up some iron tablets and be on her way. That afternoon, 20th March 2013, as she picked up her children from school, she got the phone call that would change her life.

‘They told me that something was wrong with my blood tests,’ Fiona says, ‘and that I needed to pack an overnight bag and report to A&E.’ For the next few days Fiona underwent blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy. She was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML), a type of cancer affecting her bone marrow’s ability to produce normal blood cells, and began chemotherapy immediately. Doctors later told Fiona that if she hadn’t come in that day, she would have died within a few weeks.
With a severely reduced immune system, Fiona was kept in isolation in the hospital ward to protect her from infection. While in isolation she received 14 units of platelets, to reduce the risk of life-threatening bleeding, and 6 units of red blood cells, to treat the anaemia caused by the cancer and treatment.

For almost a year and a half Fiona endured long stays in hospital, the severe side effects of chemotherapy, a devastating relapse of the leukaemia, and the anguish of waiting for a bone marrow donor match to be found.

Stoically dealing with each setback, Fiona says that the only time the illness made her cry was when she had to shave the last of her hair, identifying her as a cancer patient. ‘I didn't let the AML beat me and I stayed positive for my kids and family, but shaving my hair was hard.’

Finally in July 2014 a bone marrow match was found and Fiona’s transplant went ahead.
Fiona spent the next three months away from her home in Mosgiel in the Bone Marrow Unit and at Ranui House in Christchurch, where her mother came to live with her. Although she was exhausted, Fiona felt better than she had for a long time. In summer 2015, Fiona finally felt fully recovered.

From the day she was admitted to hospital until the day she was discharged, Fiona received 84 donations of plasma, platelets and red blood cells. To those donors, Fiona would like to say “I find it incredibly humbling and generous of all donors who give up their time to help people in situations like mine. Thank you for your help, what you do is vital and you helped save my life.”