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Leukemia Survivor Thanks Cancer For Teaching Life Lessons

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Brett Conley - Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Survivor
“I am not thankful for cancer but I am thankful for what cancer has taught me.”

Brett Conley was diagnosed with Leukaemia ALL B Cell Philadelphia Positive on 14 February 2018. She has successfully defeated her disease.

The Diagnosis

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“I was diagnosed on 14th February 2018 with Leukaemia ALL B Cell Philadelphia Positive. I went to the see a local GP after feeling unwell for about a month; however, I didn’t think my symptoms were all that serious. My symptom were a cold with a barking cough, night sweats which became continuous throughout the day as time progressed, a faint purple dotted rash on my chest and legs, fatigue, muscle soreness, heavy menstrual period and random nose and mouth bleeds.

Once I explained these symptoms to the GP, he urged me to go straight to Emergency as there was likely something with my platelets. He explained it could be ITP but Lymphoma or Leukaemia were also a possibilities given my symptoms. I went straight to ER and a simple blood tests there showed that I had Leukaemia, given that my WBC 112 and platelets were 16.”

The Journey

“I was a perfectly healthy and fit 26 year old female with no prior medical history. Prior to Leukaemia, I had never even been admitted to hospital!

I’m fortunate enough to being treated at one of the leading hospital in Australia for Leukaemia and so far my treatment and recovery has been as good as could be expected.

While Leukaemia is a horrible disease, it can be a “manageable and curable” cancer (in the words of my Haematologist). So some days I feel very fortunate to have this disease. I was given a 70% chance of survival at the time of diagnosis and I was pretty happy with those odds!

I was treated with the GRAAPH2005 protocol (a reduced chemo intensity adult protocol). I achieved complete molecular remission after the induction phase. Despite responding perfectly to the chemo with no complications, it was decided that I would automatically progress to a stem cell transplant. My medical team said that while ALL has high relapse rate, it was quite possible that it would never come back due to my response to treatment; however, they wanted to ensure that it never does come back and I’m free to get on with my life.

In May 2018 in between chemo treatments, I had an oophorectomy so that one of my ovaries could be removed and cryopreserved. It is hoped that one day I will be able to use my ovarian tissue, via IVF, to conceive. I found the potential loss of my fertility very difficult to deal with as it was something I had always taken for granted.

The path to transplant was not smooth sailing. I had a unrelated German donor who was ruled unfit to donate 10 days prior to my transplant admission in May 2018 and had to wait an additional 8 weeks for another suitable donor in the US to become available.

I spent 36 days in hospital for my transplant with the majority of that being confined to the isolation of my room. I had full myeloablative conditioning (Chemo and radiation) for my transplant. During my transplant I experienced diarrhoea, fatigue, mucositis, an infection and was place on assisted feeding. I also had Acute GVHD of the skin and was put on high dose steroids. Since my discharge, my medical team have confirmed that I am 100% donor cells (chimerism test) and 0.00% BCR-ABL.

I’m now day 60 days post-transplant and everything is going well. While a transplant is considered a risky procedure, I feel fortunate that I’m now in the recovery phase of my journey 7 months post diagnosis. I hope to return to work by December 2018/January 2019 on a part time basis.”

Motivation to fight cancer

“I didn’t think I ever really thought I had a choice. It was just the next obstacle in my life that I was going to overcome.”

Biggest hindrance

“When my German donor fell through I felt lost and unsure about the next phase of my treatment and transplant but my medical team was very reassuring. I was always reassured that they had plan B, C and D available. Fortunately, a 10/10 unrelated donor came through and we never had to explore those options.”

Message to other cancer patients

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“As everyone says, you really do need to take it one day at a time and be grateful for the good days when you have them. Just because you have cancer, doesn’t automatically mean that you are unhappy. I’ve had some really enjoyable times in the past 7 months. I’ve continued to love life throughout my treatment.”

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