A mother’s heart-wrenching decision
Melinda Cain from the Gold Coast was looking forward to the birth of her third child when she was faced with heart-wrenching news – she had acute myeloid leukaemia and would need to start treatment immediately.
At only 24 weeks pregnant Melinda told her doctor she wanted to wait another five weeks until her unborn baby was stronger and more developed. On 14 July 2011, at only 29 weeks, little Tyler entered the world and Melinda immediately began her first round of chemotherapy.
“I am a strong Aboriginal woman who doesn’t want sympathy, but I would like people to understand the devastating effects of leukaemia,” Melinda said.
“Being diagnosed was the beginning of a rollercoaster ride that has caused great financial, emotional and physical burdens. Over the past three years I have undergone intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy which required me to be close to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.
“During that period my family spent 488 nights staying at one of the Leukaemia Foundation’s accommodation villages, free of charge. We were so grateful. I don’t know what we would have done without that help.”
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Melinda said the stress involved in her leukaemia diagnosis affected the whole family.
“The implications for my family were immediate and life-changing. Having to stop work and relocate to a different city to receive treatment while juggling the needs of three children and a partner was challenging to say the least.
“Not only was I very ill, but I had a premature baby to look after as well as my other two children,” she said.
“My partner, Phillip, looked after our then two-year-old son, Euraba, at our home on the Gold Coast so that he could keep up a normal routine.
“My oldest son, Keiran, was completing year 12 at the time and drove to Brisbane after school to visit me most days. I often look back and wonder how he coped with it all – I am very proud of him.”
Bone marrow donor
After her initial diagnosis, Melinda’s sister and brother were tested as possible bone marrow donors. Unfortunately they were incompatible.
“My doctor told me that Aboriginal patients only have a one percent chance of receiving a bone marrow transplant mainly due to the low number of Aboriginal donors and the need for a high level of compatibility,” she said.
The difficult search for a donor began and, miraculously, after being on the waiting list for five months, a donor was found in America. On 17 January 2013 Melinda received her unrelated bone marrow transplant and she has now been in remission for more than 18 months.
“My life has changed and now I focus my attention on caring for my immediate family and just taking one day at a time. I feel very lucky to have had such a strong support network of family, friends and community – not everyone has that,” Melinda said.
“The staff at the Leukaemia Foundation village and the patients and friends I met there have also become part of my family. We shared each other’s journey, saw patients come and go, and saw some families lose a loved one.”
Melinda’s story first appeared in our free Leukaemia News publication.