Dropping off my sister at the doctors last November, she gave a little wave as the automatic doors closed behind her.
My older sister, Beth, 18, a student due to start studying nursing in September at Newcastle University, had been feeling a little under the weather. She was always really sleepy and weak, and started getting small painful lumps under her arm pits. I noticed the change in her immediately, as she suddenly started letting me borrow her clothes without question.
Doctors told her that she had an iron deficiency. They tried to send her away with iron tablets and told her to rest, but Beth knew it was something more and demanded a blood test. “How’d it go?” I asked as she walked through the door of our Sunderland home. “Yeah okay. They’ll call me if anything out of ordinary shows up,” she replied.
Later that night, sat down watching television together in our pyjamas, the doctors rang Beth. They told her she needed to come back in again in a week for a follow up appointment. “Nothing to worry about,” she said. “I think I may have to have another blood test, they probably lost the last one.” Suddenly, her phone rang and it was the doctors again. Instead of a week later, they told her she needed to get to the hospital first thing tomorrow.
Her voice was trembling as she replied: “Yeah okay, tomorrow should be fine.” “What is it Beth,” I asked. Her phone rang a third time, she broke down as she hung up the phone. “They told me I need to get to the hospital as soon as possible. I need to pack an overnight bag in case I need to stay in,” she said, her face filling with panic. My mum, Sharon, 43, and my dad, Gary, 51 and I were baffled.
“It can’t be anything serious, surely?” I said, bemused. Beth was biting her nails and a look of dread filled her face. She bundled a few things in her overnight bag and off we went to Newcastle hospital. As soon as we arrived a doctor pulled the four us into a small room. Beth was clutching her bag in terror and the four of us were holding hands, tight.
He closed the door behind us, and you could tell it was going to be heart breaking news. “I’m really sorry to have to tell you this,” he said looking directly at Beth. “But you have Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.” We looked around at each other. Beth was only 18, how was this possible? She broke down with her head in dad’s lap. Mum tried to remain strong for all of us, but we were all heartbroken for Beth.
“We’ll need to start your chemotherapy right away to make sure we can eliminate all the cancer cells within your body,” the doctor continued. Hearing the doctor say cancer to my older sister was unreal. She’s my hero, my best friend and now she has cancer. I didn’t believe it for a second. “That’s what Nan died of, wasn’t it?” Beth asked, sobbing through her tears.
We all hugged her and kissed her head. We comforted her in every way possible, but she had cancer and none of us knew what to do, or how bad it would get.
Beth needed 10 intense sessions of Chemotherapy to keep her cancer at bay, and over the next four months I went with her to every session to hold her hand and keep her company. She was immediately put onto the donor register as she needed a bone marrow transplant desperately to save her life. Doctors told us that for now, things were OK, but that Beth was far from out of the woods.
Doctors ruled out mum and dad as a bone marrow match right away, and said that I only had a 25% chance of being a match. Waiting for the results was nail-biting. We saw Beth’s doctor approaching us with the results in his hands. Nerves filled our bodies as he opened the file and took a seat. “Good news!” he grinned. “You’re a match.”
I ran over to Beth and squeezed the life out of her as our eyes filled with tears. I was a 99.5 per cent match. Not even the doctors could believe it. “You can save my life, Aimee,” Beth said, bursting into tears. But before we could start the procedure I had to go undergo extensive testing: blood tests, heart tests, fitness tests, scans, ultrasounds and MRIs.
While Beth had to undergo another five sessions of chemo to make sure all of the Leukaemia was out her system. She started to become even weaker as the weeks went by, but two months after we left for hospital, Beth was still here. Her hair was starting to fall out by then due to her chemo, so I decided to shave my hair off as well so we were matching.
I grabbed my dad’s hair clippers and large chunks of my think, glossy brown hair floated to the ground. I knew Beth would love the fact we were bald together. She smiled as I entered her room, rocking my new do. She rubbed my bald head while resting on her crispy hospital pillow and laughed.
“You’re nuts,” she said to me. Weeks later, on March 23rd it was finally time to save my big sister’s life. I underwent a four-hour operation while doctors removed 1,400ml of bone marrow from my hips. I was under general anaesthetic at the time and it was almost like a drip bag but the other way around, filling with my bone marrow, not filling me with fluid.
Mum and dad were racing between the wards trying to look after both their poorly children. After my operation, I became really ill I had to stay in for one night so doctors could monitor my progress. I felt really sick and exhausted. I knew Beth was feeling 100% worse than me, so I really couldn’t complain.
I had no idea what she must have been going through, especially after four months in hospital. Beth’s operation was a few days after mine – they pumped her with all of my bone marrow lasting for five hours, and the transplant was a success. Even though Beth is still really ill, she’s recovering tremendously. She’s now Leukaemia-free after months of gruelling treatment.
It will still take an entire year before we get the old Beth back, but for now I’m enjoying my sleep-overs at the hospital and our pig-out sessions together watching DVD’s in her private room. When I went to visit Beth, I told her: “you better let me borrow your clothes now I’ve saved your life.” I can’t wait for her to come home so we can start arguing again and driving mum and dad crazy, just like old times.
After going through what felt like hell and back, we thought we’d write to Sellusyourstory.com We told them our story and they very kindly gave us £500 to appear in That’s Life magazine. We put the money towards a much needed holiday in Spain. I never imagined that Beth or I would ever be in this situation, but now we have a holiday to look forward too, new bikinis to buy and new sun glasses to shop for.
Beth is on the road to recovery and she’ll be back home annoying me before I know it.
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