Bishop's Stortford woman takes on Shine Night Walk in bid to get back to fitness after battling leukaemia
A Bishop's Stortford woman says she is "one of the lucky ones" after a bone marrow transplant enabled her to get her life back on track following a battle with leukaemia.
And part of Lesley Calder's plan to get back to fitness includes taking part in the Shine Night Walk marathon in London on Saturday (Sept 25).
It is not the first time Lesley has taken on the walk, organised by Cancer Research UK, as in 2018 she and her friend Helen O'Hanlon completed it in support of a mutual work colleague who had kidney cancer.
In July 2019 Lesley was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia and her post-retirement plans with husband David had to be put on hold.
"For the month I was feeling as though I had the worst flu ever – persistent infections, unexplained bruising, breathlessness, constant fatigue, lack of appetite, very pale, night sweats and bleeding gums," Lesley explained. "I was seeing my GP throughout the month for infections which weren’t clearing."
In August of that year a blood test revealed abnormalities. She was told to go to her nearest A&E and then sent by ambulance to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, where the diagnosis of acute myeloid leukaemia was confirmed.
"Further tests established the extent of the leukaemia, its genetic profile and pointed to a high chance of relapse in the future without a stem cell transplant being included in my treatment plan," said Lesley. "But I needed to get into remission first. My bone marrow had to recover its normal blood production processes – and I needed stay infection free."
Her three siblings came forward to be tested as potential donors for the transplant. Although there is a one-in-four chance of a full match, she had two full matches and a half match, and, after tests, her sister Annie was chosen.
In December she was admitted to Addenbrooke's to prepare for the transplant and after an "early Christmas present" she was able to go home in January.
"The first 100 days after transplant are critical and it takes roughly two years for a full recovery to be possible," said Lesley. "You're starting with an immature, incomplete and untested immune system, vulnerable to any and all infection – you even need all the baby jabs again."
She added: "I'm one of the lucky ones. So far I'm still in remission, with only minor issues. I’m generally where I should be at this stage in my recovery. I just need to get my fitness back."
Lesley was keen to raise awareness of blood cancer and directed readers to a video from Blood Cancer UK.
"Spotting the symptoms and early diagnosis really are critical," she said. "My symptoms and the high-level extent of the cancer all came about within the space of a month.
"I was told at diagnosis that without treatment at best I had 6-8 weeks left and was already at high risk of a fatal bleed. Acute leukaemias are exactly that – hence the need for better awareness."
To sponsor Lesley see https://fundraise.cancerresearchuk.org/page/lesleys-giving-page-298. So far she raised £1,370 from sponsors.