Cathy had been feeling unwell for some time with low energy, bruising for no reason and little appetite. In 2012 at the age of 59, Cathy was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML), a rare form of blood cancer, which without treatment, would only give her a short time to live. The diagnosis began a journey that included over two hundred blood tests, two rounds of chemotherapy, one trip to ICU with sepsis when many of her organs began to fail, a week in an induced coma and an allogenic (donated) stem cell transplant which saved her life.
“I decided to call my cancer the little c rather than the Big C. I wasn’t giving it that much power over my life!”
The Alfred Hospital referred Cathy to the Skin Health Institute to assist in the management of skin conditions that are common with transplant patients and cancer treatments. Chemotherapy can lead to many skin problems such as dryness, rash or sensitivity to sunlight. A common and sometimes life-threatening complication of these transplants is called graft versus host disease (GVHD), an immune reaction whereby cells from the donor’s immune system recognise the patient’s body as foreign and attack it. It can lead to organ damage and skin disfigurement as well as rashes, changes in skin colour, itchiness and the thickening and tightening of the skin, causing restricted joint movement.
In the process of battling GVHD for eight years, Cathy was prescribed with prednisolone, a steroid that supresses the new immune system in order to reduce symptoms. “I ended up with steroid induced type 2 diabetes which resulted in dry skin that was thankfully resolved after a series of insulin injections.”
But in many ways, Cathy was also one of the lucky ones when it came to managing the symptoms of skin conditions associated with her AML treatments stating that, “I was fortunate to only have minor, manageable skin problems, but attending the Skin Health Institute gave me confidence that any concerns would be picked up and dealt with efficiently.”
Now a decade on, Cathy’s AML is ‘cured’ and has become the focus of her recently published book, Life Blood, which documents her “expedition with cancer,” capturing moments of heartbreak and humour, while acknowledging the remarkable work of the medical practitioners that supported her cancer journey.
Cathy Koning’s Life Blood is available to order here and more information about Cathy can be found on her website.