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Bishop’s Stortford Independent Life with Leukaemia columnist Amy Atkinson and family do Walk of Light for Blood Cancer UK

Life with Leukaemia: A family's story of navigating the emotional, physical and financial challenges of living with blood cancer, by Amy Atkinson

It is over two years since I started writing for the Bishop’s Stortford Independent. My husband Joel had been battling cancer for five months when I met with Paul, the newspaper’s editor, fuelled by my determination to bring awareness of blood cancer to the community through my writing.

My husband was in his late 20s when he was diagnosed. Our daughter Isla was four at the time. Before his diagnosis we took life for granted, thinking we had unlimited time ahead of us, the unacknowledged assumption that tomorrow was promised. When we were told Joel had cancer, that word paralysed me. It instantly shattered my attitude that we were young, carefree and had a lifetime of memories to make together.

Amy Atkinson and her husband Joel
Amy Atkinson and her husband Joel

I have written in detail about the struggles that people face due to the lack of awareness of blood cancer symptoms, the challenges of treatments and the importance of fundraising to support cancer charities in their mission to research kinder treatments and find curative medicines.

I truly hope this has resonated with readers. No one knows your body better than you and if something isn’t right and isn’t improving, keep going back to the doctor, keep pushing for the help and support you need and deserve.

Cancer is often a word people run away from, scroll away from, turn the page and avoid. A bit of a taboo subject. I am determined to normalise talking about cancer. After all, one in two of us will get it. With the impossibilty of getting a doctor’s appointment at times and people often being at the mercy of long NHS wait times for tests etc, now more than ever it is important to talk about health openly with family and friends, to arm ourselves with the knowledge of the symptoms of cancer, to check for lumps, bumps and other ways cancer presents itself.

Today I want to bring you a different perspective of life with cancer. Please do not think I am detracting from the challenges or the heartache that this illness can bring, but I wanted to share something positive that it has brought to my family.

Having faced losing the love of my life in my mid-20s, I have come as close as possible to losing him and seen the fragility of life. We feel so lucky and truly blessed that Joel has maintained his remission for over a year now and, although it may have taken so much from us, this journey has gifted us something which is priceless. A lust for life, an appreciation for all the small things and the gratitude for each and every day we have together. This might sound cliche, but it is true.

Now I consciously take time to step back, to savour the moment, to soak in all the little things like my husband and daughter playing football in the garden. I try not to let the anger of my husband’s clothes never quite making it to the washing basket and gathering on our bedroom floor take over. I consciously try not to sweat the small stuff. I say I love you every day as life is too short to shy away from emotions or to wait until tomorrow to say how you truly feel.

Perhaps this is a teaching all of us could benefit from in today’s fast-paced society - the road rage-filled journeys that are common to Bishop’s Stortford, the frustration of living through a cost-of-living crisis. Perhaps we all need to take a moment out of our days to try to see the good in our community, the good in our lives. After all, you don’t know what battles people are fighting behind closed doors.

The Atkinsons organised a Walk of Light
The Atkinsons organised a Walk of Light

Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but life is what we make it and I am determined to make ours as happy and healthy as possible.

Recently we did another Walk of Light to mark Joel’s fight with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Family and close friends gathered to do a sunset walk to raise awareness and funds for Blood Cancer UK and we raised £650. This charity has been a fantastic support to our family during these tough few years.

Fundraising has become a passion of mine. I now work for a local charity and feel so blessed to be able to use my time to make a positive difference. Going through this journey has changed Joel and I as people. I have re-evaluated what I find important in life. It is the most humbling thing to realise your mortality in your 20s - it is both terrifying and freeing.

I hope this article encourages people to be present in the moment, to put down their phones for a moment and experience life, to appreciate all the little things and to tell those closest to them that they are loved.

I am writing this in National Blood Week. Every minute the NHS needs three life-saving blood donations. Anyone could need blood at any time, so please; save lives and give blood. Sign up to donate locally at www.blood.co.uk.

As always, sending love and light to all those in the cancer community.

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