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Personal cancer story

Jenni Woods

My husband, Joe, and I left on a working holiday around Australia in 2010. We had no time limit and no rush, sometimes staying in cities for months at a time.

Jenni Woods

We started in our hometown of Bundaberg, Queensland, but it was when we arrived in Adelaide in South Australia, over three years after our journey began, that our world turned completely upside down.

In early October 2013, I had a check-up and blood tests in Geraldton WA, which all came back clear. We spent the next three weeks making our way to Adelaide. I started to feel very lethargic and tired, but put it down to all the exploring we'd been doing. I also noticed a boil on my right arm, which I dismissed quickly, thinking it was no big deal and that I'd just get it checked out in the

When we got to Adelaide our car needed repairing, so we took the train into the city to do some exploring. I saw signs to the Royal Adelaide Hospital. As a nurse, I enjoy checking out other hospitals, so we headed there to take a look. Since we were going there anyway, and as I was still feeling run down and two more boils had popped up, I thought it would be a good opportunity to see a doctor. I assumed that I'd get some antibiotics for the boils and be on my way.

My temperature at triage was 39.9 and the nurse was worried. Blood tests were then taken which came back with an abnormal result. I was sent for more tests, as they thought there must have been a mistake, but these came back with an abnormal result as well. I was told that I needed to see a haematologist for the results, and at that point I knew that something was seriously wrong.

Joe and I sat with the haematologist who told us she thought I might have acute myeloid leukaemia. I felt like I'd been hit by a bus. We couldn't believe that what had seemed so minor was actually cancer. We were devastated. We didn't know anyone in Adelaide – all our family and friends were in Queensland.

My white blood cell count was so low I wasn't able to fly back to Queensland, but I was lucky to be at Royal Adelaide Hospital. The staff and treatment were all absolutely amazing. They really looked after us.

The first thing we did was call the Cancer Council, who helped arrange accommodation for Joe across the park from the hospital, as the caravan park was a long train ride away. Once this was organised, we could start thinking about treatment and what was happening to me.

The day after the hospital visit, I was taken up the ward to have a bone marrow biopsy, which confirmed that it was cancer. It was 13 November 2013 and I was 49 years old. There was no waiting around and I started chemotherapy that afternoon.

I had three cycles of chemotherapy at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. The medical team hit the cancer hard and fast, which was good. I had to stay in hospital while my immune system was so low, so every day I would hope that my blood count had come back up.

I was incredibly sick during chemotherapy. I also lost my hair, which was quite traumatic. I would run my hand over my head, only for fistfuls of hair to come out. We decided to get the clippers and shave it off. I also shaved Joe's hair, as he wanted to be bald in support. My son and all his work mates, one of my daughters, my sister-in-law and niece all also shaved their heads and sent me photos.

I had so much support. My mum and two sisters flew down for one weekend, and my children sent me photos of my grandkids to decorate my hospital room. The wall across from my bed was covered in photos, drawings and cards from family and friends. We were also blown away by all the people who showered us in support over Facebook and online. Many of our friends put us in touch with contacts in Adelaide, should we need any help. I feel so lucky to have been surrounded by so much support while I was in hospital and also now that I'm in remission.

After chemotherapy in Adelaide, I had another bone marrow biopsy and the doctors gave me the all clear to head back to Queensland. It was the middle of December when I arrived back in my state and within a few days I was admitted to Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane where I started two cycles of consolidation chemotherapy. During this time, Joe, my brother and I went to the Cancer Council wig library and tried on wig after wig until we found the perfect one. We had lots of laughs that afternoon.

Once I'd finished chemotherapy in Brisbane, they did another bone marrow biopsy, which confirmed that I was still in remission. By early March I was back in my hometown of Bundaberg. For the first four weeks, I'd catch the train to Brisbane every week for a check-up and blood tests. Then the appointments were pushed back to monthly, then every six weeks. Now, my health is great and I just have six-monthly check-ups with my specialist.

My advice is to always be vigilant about your health and get anything unusual checked out. I also believe that it's important to remain hopeful. My story shows that while things may look bad, sometimes there is hope.

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