Leukaemia: Happy for second chance to be Mum
Fiona was on her way to collect her daughter Kate from primary school when she received the call. With son Tom on her hip and car keys in hand, her GP said: “You’ve got to go to the hospital now.”
Six years ago, 45 year old mum, Fiona took her children, 5 year old Kate and 9 month old Tom to the doctor as they both had colds. Fiona was also fatigued but felt that it was part and parcel of being a busy mum with a young baby. Other mums reassured her, telling her that she had just forgotten what it was like having an infant at home and to just ‘push through’. During the consultation, the intuitive doctor took one look at Fiona telling her she looked unwell. The doctor ordered some precautionary blood tests and wanted these repeated again in two weeks time.
A few days after the second set of blood tests, the doctor called with the results. Fiona was on her way to collect Kate from primary school. With Tom on her hip and car keys in hand, her GP said “You’ve got to go to the Wesley now.” Within two days she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia and started her first round of chemotherapy. Her world and her family’s world turned upside down – that was 2.00pm 2 December 2010.
Her journey began with 4 weeks of intensive chemotherapy including 2 weeks in intensive care from complications over Christmas. What was supposed to be four weeks became six weeks. Visitors were limited as the chemo was very toxic and Fiona needed to conserve her energy.
“Christmas wasn’t important in the scheme of things. I just needed to focus on my treatment and returning to my babies and husband.” said Fiona.
Her first break from treatment coincided with the 2011 Brisbane floods. If it wasn’t one thing it was another. Fiona watched the city go under water from the window of her hospital room. “It was eerie.” The discharge nurse had to push her wheelchair across the railway lines, behind the Wesley, to meet her husband Matt as all the surrounding roads were flooded. Fiona was just glad to be home for the first time since December. Kate and Tom had to adjust quickly as mum was in and out of hospital for more than six months. “I got to spend lots of time with Daddy,” said Kate in a positive way.
Her first 2 week break, “was like escaping from jail” said Fiona.
After this, there was another 4 weeks of chemotherapy. During this time, Fiona’s beautiful husband Matt (a partner in a busy law firm) was supported by both sets of grandparents as well as various friends as they rallied to keep life as normal as possible for the kids.
Fiona Rollason FamilyKate learnt to care for her little brother. “I was feeding him his milk every night and giving him extra cuddles.”
A live-in nanny was employed to help keep family life on track and allow Matt to visit Fiona in the evenings. Fiona looked forward to being home for her son’s 1st birthday.
In 2011 it was necessary for Fiona to have a bone marrow transplant. Her mum, dad and sister had all had cancer, so they couldn’t donate. Her extended family was no match either. Fortunately a match was found with a kind and generous donor in NSW. After a traumatic six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation conditioning, the BMT took effect and to great relief Fiona went into remission.
As is often the case with non-relative donors (allogeneic transplants) there have been some complications from graft-versus-host disease which required steroid treatment and immune suppression drugs. Fiona had ongoing gut issues, skin disease and then more recently cataract surgery as a result of damage from steroid medications.
Just recently Fiona visited her haematologist for her 6 year post-transplant review. Blood and skin checks were performed as part of her annual ‘work up’ to ensure she remains in remission. It has been a long road to recovery for Fiona and her family.
Despite the trauma and complications triggered by treatment, Fiona is a positive and grateful person. She is feeling great and living the life of a busy mum, shuttling kids to school, sport and play dates. She is lucky to be around for her children now and to be that loving mum, daughter and wife. Fiona is excited to see her kids hit all those important milestones. Tom is thriving and Kate started high school this year. Recently starting a casual job has been the icing on the cake, a step forward and a welcome return to normality.
One of the highlights in recent years was bidding and winning the right to shave the head of her wonderful haematologist, Dr Ashish Misra, for the 2015 World’s Greatest Shave.
Exercise is now an important part of her routine. It has helped her to build her confidence and physical strength, all thanks to the Leukaemia Foundation’s Fit to Thrive program.; a free, customised 12-week exercise program run by accredited exercise physiologists. Fiona continues on an extension program, exercising with others who understand her journey and the recovery process.
Fiona is proud of being a survivor and feels the time is right to ‘give back,’ to her supporters and acknowledge their part in her recovery. But also to let other women know that whatever is thrown at them they have the strength to endure, to renew and grow.