I wanted to let my story help others
Brisbane father-of-two Perry Judd jumped at the chance “to play a small part in making someone’s journey that little bit easier”, and became a Blood Buddy.
“When I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in January 2013, I had no knowledge of what I was going to experience or potentially feel throughout the journey of treatment, and hopefully recovery,” said Perry, 41.
“I didn’t find explanations from the medical perspective helpful in terms of coping strategies and they certainly didn’t put me at ease and give me much of a sense of hope,” he said.
“I remember craving positive stories from survivors, to give me something to hang on to. I would latch on to those as beacons of hope for my own emotional wellbeing.”
It was at a Leukaemia Foundation education session, which Perry attended between chemo cycles in 2013, where he met someone who’d had a transplant several years earlier.
“It was the first time I’d heard firsthand from someone who’d been through a similar journey as the one I was in the middle of.
“Until then my only contact with the AML community was with fellow patients on the ward, and we were all struggling with the same desire for real stories to help us maintain hope.
“So, when I became aware of the Blood Buddies program, I jumped at the chance to let my story help others,” said Perry.
He was paired with 45-year-old Chris Sipeki, who was diagnosed in January 2016 just after moving with his wife and two children into their dream home on the NSW Central Coast.
“Hearing about someone who has actually walked in your shoes is invaluable,” said Chris, who had a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor in July 2016.
“What I hoped to gain from Perry, was a patient’s perspective of what I could expect from the treatment I was receiving at the time and also a longer-term outlook, to help me understand how this would affect the rest of my life,” Chris said.
“I received not only facts about Perry’s journey and how AML has affected his life but also, on a personal level, I feel as though Perry and I have bonded and formed a friendship rather than just a support network.”
“The experience was extremely helpful. I was always fairly positive about my diagnosis to begin with, but speaking to Perry cemented my positive outlook and belief that I was going to get through this.
“And, if I’d been feeling slightly depressed before talking to Perry, our conversations always succeeded in cheering me up.
“The most valuable thing I gained from talking to Perry was the encouragement and hope he gave not only to me, but to people around me like my family and friends.
“Here is a guy who was in a very similar situation to me, nearly four years down the track after his transplant and still going strong. If Perry can do it why can’t I!”
Perry describes his Buddy experience as “nothing but positive”. He and Chris have had three phone catch-up sessions over seven months, starting in early 2016.
“I feel we’ve both benefited from the contact,” said Perry who felt the experience helped him to stay grounded and not to be afraid of delving back into his memories of treatment and the emotional rollercoaster it was.
“Chris and I had an instant rapport. Both of a similar age, with a couple of kids, the same socio-demographic, decent careers and similar interests in camping and sport, we hit it off,” said Perry.
“In a normal social situation, we’d become mates.”
In response to Chris’ questions, Perry said he had trouble remembering details of some of his treatment at first.
“The things I was living, day in day out during my treatment, have become a distant memory, and I’ve realised our inbuilt coping mechanisms are so great at moving on and looking ahead, that we can easily forget the grizzly details of past negative experiences,” Perry said.
“I think that was somehow a good thing for Chris to see, as it helps to know that your perspective changes as you go through treatment, recovery and then back to ‘normal’ life.”
“Answering his questions and thinking about things from that perspective again, now that I am at a different stage in my life, has helped me to rethink the whole process and how I can extract meaning from it.”
“It’s ironic that Chris is of Hungarian heritage and my wife is Serbian. These are neighbouring Eastern European countries. We will both be in that vicinity in June next year and we’ve toyed with the idea of catching up there.”