I was 21 and I think I was the happiest I have ever been. I was living on a temporary work visa in Vancouver, Canada; in my second year and starting to think about my permanent residency so that I could stay there. In April 2018 I was on my monthly getaway and I started getting these huge bruises but shrugged them off, over the next 6 months they were pretty regular as was my fatigue, but I continued to ignore them- I was the healthiest I’d ever felt from hiking and being outdoors, drinking less being away from the UK and losing weight for it (I thought). By October I got violently sick for 5 days without eating before I had my Canadian host family (I was an au pair) take me to the hospital.

I recall waiting, blood tests and then sitting in front of a doctor I didn’t know, with no family, thousands of miles from home listening to something about white blood cells and I knew instantly she was talking about leukaemia. She said they’d transfer me to a more specialist hospital and left...

“Did she just tell me I’ve got cancer?” And I cried.

Ambulance ride to the next hospital to have some more things explained to me- the new doctor had a break in her voice every time she tried to explain to me and the nurse was quite blatantly crying- I was later told they thought I was going to die. Fortunately, I react well to meds to bring my white counts down. I was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia with a lymphatic blast stage.

By midnight, my family and friends back in the UK were waking and I needed to tell my parents. I suspect I slept for around an hour that night after letting everyone who I needed to tell about my news.

I stayed in hospital for 4 days, they told me they’d be sending me home the next week. I was discharged and started getting ready. In the kitchen back at home it felt great to be out of hospital. I passed out and had a fit that morning. Turns out the cancer was in my central nervous system. I was readmitted and my flights cancelled. Over the next 5 weeks I didn’t leave the 15th floor of the hospital again. My mum flew over from the UK and came and went from the hospital along with my host family while I had my first rounds of chemo, I lost my hair, my skin got dry, I was attached to a line via my Hickman tube that cane out my chest and I had 5 lumbar punctures which are needles in the bottom of the spinal cavity to take out spinal fluid and insert chemotherapy drugs. Those made me really sick.

I counted my blood numbers daily and had a chart to keep track. As my mums birthday came around at the end of November, I was released in Canada for 1 week before they would fly me back.

It was so nice to be back in a bed I knew, to have freedom. Reality hit me pretty hard- I was very weak and very unwell; that wouldn’t stop me enjoying my last week in the place I loved the most though. I went out every day that week and found a new thing to do- I had so much fun but nothing topped heading to the Vancouver Canucks game and being invited to the changing rooms to meet the Canucks 2015 draft pick and my favourite player- Brock Boeser. Star struck wasn’t the word and still is the most exciting moment of my life.

I flew home and everything was totally alien to me. I felt like I didn’t belong and it was HARD. My friends had left for uni when I left to travel and they were not in town. My family had their own lives and I spent lots of time travelling 2-3 hours to London for treatment. I channelled all my energy into learning about my illness- ‘knowledge is power’ I told myself. I was so clued up on all thing CML.

I was admitted for my bone marrow transplant on Feb 12th after we found my sister to be a suitable donor. I spent a further 5 weeks in hospital and I shall spear everyone the details but I know I spent more time sleeping than awake in those weeks. It was frustrating to be stuck in one room again- but the staff at UCLH floor 13 are amazing and I can’t ever thank them enough.

I did not suffer from graft versus host disease and although my cancer did return late 2019, it is very much under control. I have come to terms with the fact that radiotherapy has caused me to hit the menopause early and that I am predisposed to other illnesses, but that makes my journey from this point even more relevant.

I was signed off for a year from work and signed on to universal credit. By August I was 6 months post transplant and I started working 50 hours a week. I was so sick of sitting indoors! Going back to work changed my life! I threw myself into my new job at a wellness practice and I’m not sure that finding myself there was such a coincidence. Since starting there I have learnt how to support my body without the use of medication, via chiropractic care, personal training, supplementation. If there is such a thing as destiny it took me there.

Since working at BodyWell I have broken my femur and the coronavirus has hit the world. I fought and beat cancer in less than a year and now I know I can do anything. I’ve met the love of my life at my new job and we move in together next week after 6 months of dating. I meet refreshingly educated people everyday- many of whom have been in my position and we talk in depth about how cancer changes your life but it is totally your decision if it does it for the better or the worse. Cancer has changed my life but I will never let it ruin my life. Being predisposed to new things that I had never considered before, and at such an early age, I understand and appreciate the importance of looking after myself before anything else happens. I need to build up my strength to be able to fight anything that comes my way. I appreciate that everyone deals with cancer differently, but in my opinion, head on and finding the silver linings, a positive attitude... it made all the difference for me and I believe it can for everyone.

Best of luck to anyone and everyone at any stage of the journey- I know it’s not the best one but make it one that changed you for the better

Leigh-Ann x