I’m Claire - a pretty ordinary 40something from Cosham.

On June 16th 2015, my life changed forever when I heard the words “You have cancer” - I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia after being taken into Queen Alexandra hospital with extreme back pain. I remember thinking “OK then - what are we going to do to fix this?”

Everything moved very quickly after diagnosis, I started chemotherapy 3 days later and spent 4 months in hospital receiving treatment. Some of the chemo was pretty grim, I also took part in a medical trial - well, if it didn’t help me, it might help someone else in the future. My hair started to fall out and I lost weight ( hospital food isn’t that great ! ). I was told that they were looking for a donor for me for a stem cell transplant - my sister was tested but wasn’t a match…

Those 4 months were a combination of chemo, lumbar punctures, biopsies, x-rays, scans, transfusions, blood tests - oh yes, and I had my right lung drained twice…

My sister and some of my friends were great - visiting, looking after my flat, shopping and generally being there for me. Eventually, on October 2nd, I was allowed home for a week - it was so nice to be in my own bed, having a window open, feeling carpet under my feet instead of lino - simple things that we usually take for granted. I went back into hospital twice in October for more chemo but was home for my birthday - a cup of tea and a piece of cake with my best friend was the extent of my celebrations! I did have good news though as a donor had been found through the Anthony Nolan Trust and my transplant was scheduled for 9th December 2015.

I had a month at home before going into Southampton General on 30th November for the “conditioning treatment” that precedes a transplant. It wasn’t very pleasant and the actual transplant was a bit of an anti-climax - a small bag of cells that are given intravenously over an hour or so. The following week was pretty grim, I had a feeding tube as my mouth was so ulcerated that I couldn’t swallow. It didn’t last too long and just before Christmas, I started to feel better and my bloods were good enough for me to go home on Boxing Day. I’d lost all my hair, nearly 3 stone in weight and 5 inches in height where my vertebrae had collapsed. But I was home!

The next few months were spent shuttling to and from hospital for routine clinic visits - I had to stay in isolation at home, I couldn’t go near anyone with germs and was only allowed visitors if they and their families were healthy as my immune system was so fragile. It was hard not being able to see people, meet friends for coffee or even go food shopping but it wasn’t worth the risk of catching anything and not being able to fight the infection.

By May, I was starting to get out and about a bit and I discovered Wessex Cancer Trust support centre in Cosham - I’d walked past it before and assumed it was just a shop. There was a sign saying “Come in for a cuppa and a chat” - so I did!

You can hear more about Claire's story on her personal blog.