"I couldn’t have predicted what was ahead"
Esther was a bright year 12 student with big dreams when one day her life changed.
It all started with an innocent lump on the right side of her chest. It gradually grew to the size of a plum. Esther began treatment with antibiotics, but more lumps appeared.
They were tender to touch, like bruises, leaving her feeling self-conscious during her Cook Island dancing performances. She lost her appetite, had fevers and no energy. Despite the antibiotics, she didn’t feel like she was getting better. At one point, she had more than 25 lumps visible on her body. After a tough six months, Esther was advised to go to hospital. She says that in many ways it was a relief, but it also became the first step in a long, hard road to recovery.
In hospital she was diagnosed with a very rare type of cancer. The name is a real mouthful of words – subcutaneous panniculitis-like T-cell lymphoma. It looked like an inflammatory disorder called panniculitis, which produces painful bumps under the skin. Esther’s condition was much worse, though, because it kept on spreading – it was a cancer.
Chemotherapy proved effective at first – the lumps went away. However it didn’t take long before the lumps came back again. Countless visits to the doctor and hospital, cycles of chemotherapy, transfusions of blood and plasma all continued for weeks on end, in the hope that it would push the cancer into remission. The long list of transfusions she received included over 40 units of red blood cells, more than 20 platelet transfusions and doses of 3 other products made from donated blood.
During much of this time, hardworking Esther did her best to continue with normal life. She finished school and found a job, even though her study plans were put on hold. But she didn’t make plans for the future. The future wasn’t something she believed she would be part of.
She recalls a friend coming to visit her at home one day, urging her to go to hospital instead of work because she was so worried about her. She looked so serious and was so insistent that Esther agreed.
Back in hospital, it was not long before the specialists decided Esther needed a bone marrow transplant. She was fortunate to receive her life-saving gift in time for Christmas that year.
Since her transplant in 2014 Esther can hardly believe the change in course her life has taken. She’s making plans for the future now! She’s saving money in the hope that she can study performing arts, human resources, or maybe business. She hasn’t quite decided yet. Life is now full of opportunities and she says she’s going to make the most of them.
Although she didn’t think much of it at the time, before she became sick Esther donated blood twice when she was at high school.
“It seemed like no big deal,” she says. “I couldn’t have predicted what was ahead. I now realise how important donating blood is. I want people to know that donating their blood saves lives – it helped save mine.”
You can read more of Esther’s powerful story, in her own words, on the AYA Cancer Network Aotearoa site by clicking here.
To find out more about how to become a blood donor to help save the lives of people like Esther, click here or call 0800 GIVE BLOOD.