Leukaemia: Little Lucia a precious gift
As Tegan Homer sits cradling her smiling two-year old daughter, Lucia, she reflects on how differently things could have been after her diagnosis with blood cancer 17 years ago.
Not only did Tegan survive but her hopes of becoming a mother – nearly dashed by her diagnosis – were realised when her older sister selflessly donated her eggs. “When I was diagnosed with blood cancer at 14, having children was something I knew I wanted some day, but in the distant future,” Tegan said.
“I was a teenager dealing with a life-threatening disease, being stuck in hospital, going through chemotherapy and losing my hair. My world was literally turned upside down.
“Before my bone marrow transplant , which was standard treatment for my chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) at the time, Mum had the foresight to encourage me to consider my future options. Having a transplant can affect fertility so it was decided I would have ovarian tissue stored.
“Fast forward 10 years and I met my husband Dugald. We soon decided having a baby was something we both wanted very much. Having already had two beautiful girls of her own, my older sister, Tennille, offered to donate her eggs.
“At first I was hesitant but the decision was made easier when we discovered there was a chance my stored ovarian tissue may contain leukaemic cells. It was a risk I didn’t want to take.
“It was a wonderful gift from my sister but she is very pragmatic about it and simply sees it as providing the missing ingredient for baking a cake. But I will always be grateful.”
Uterus damaged during treatment
The 31-year-old says her pregnancy and birth were anything but smooth sailing. Her uterus had been damaged during her treatment for blood cancer and her doctors were concerned she may not be able to carry her baby to full term. After enduring nine months of hormone treatment to get her body ready for pregnancy, Tegan became pregnant on her second egg transfer.
The pregnancy went well until Tegan went into labour at 30 weeks. She describes the weeks that followed as “incredibly traumatic”.
“I was in hospital for four weeks on strict bed rest and picked up an infection,” Tegan explained.
“At almost 34 weeks I was concerned I wasn’t feeling my baby move and, after blood test confirmed an infection, I underwent an emergency caesarean. It’s all a bit of a blur but I remember being so relieved to hear my baby scream as she entered the world.
“It then became evident how damaged my uterus actually was. Following the birth, I ended up in the intensive care unit for 24 hours without my baby, which was very stressful and emotional.
“It was all worth it to have our beautiful daughter, Lucia. She is an absolute gift and brings us so much joy.”
Tegan’s mum, Cheryl, said she looks back at the time when Tegan was diagnosed with blood cancer and wonders how they got through it. “We’re so proud of her – it was an incredibly difficult time. It was also devastating for our three older children who were all still in their teens,” Cheryl said. “It was like someone had dropped a bomb into the middle of our lives; the ripple effect was enormous.
“I was so grateful for the emotional support from Maryanne, one of the Support Services Coordinators at the Leukaemia Foundation. We still keep in touch to this day.”
Tegan is now enjoying every second of being Lucia’s mum and being surrounded by a loving family. “I have so many great people in my life – I am very lucky,” Tegan said.
How CML is treated now
The last decade has witnessed a dramatic change in the way chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) is treated.
When Tegan was diagnosed with CML, a bone marrow transplant was standard treatment. However the introduction of tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) resulted in a decline in the primary use of transplants. Treatment of CML varies depending on the phase of disease, your general heath and age.
During the chronic phase, treatment is used to control CML and keep blood counts within a normal range. This can involve chemotherapy, usually taken in tablet form at home. Treatment is now likely to involve the use of a type of TKI that blocks the leukaemia-causing effects of a substance called tyrosine kinase.
A stem cell transplant may still be an option for some younger patients, or patients who are intolerant or resistant to TKIs, providing them with a better chance of a cure. Read more about CML.