It was August 2007 and things had been going well for 32 year old Mark and his wife Renee. They had three beautiful children aged 10, 6 and 3, and another on the way. Mark was a self-employed tiler and business was good. At 120kgs, in his own words he was ‘a big man – a typical Aussie bloke.’
But when a rash appeared, then a bruise that wouldn’t go away as well as a recurring cough and general tiredness, he knew something was wrong. The devastating news that Mark had leukaemia shocked everyone.
“We couldn’t believe it when they said I had leukaemia; within days I had started chemotherapy,”
Mark’s treatment was immediate and intensive, as it is for many Australians diagnosed with a blood cancer. Over the coming months, he would spend almost as much time in the hospital as out. It was impossible for him to work and his business closed. Renee then gave up work to care for him and hold the family together; suddenly there was no income. Family and friends helped in every way they could but the financial pressures were too severe. They were forced to sell most of their belongings just to survive.
The Christmas of 2007 was low key, but Mark was home and they cherished the time they could spend as a family. In January, Mark and his Dad drove the 200 kilometres to the city so that Mark could receive a life-saving bone marrow transplant.
“That’s when we came into contact with the Leukaemia Foundation” said Mark.
“The staff are angels. It’s hard to explain, it’s the support, their passion, the caring.
You just need that around; they are just there.”
“How can complete strangers care so much?” he asks.
It was hard for the Grahams to be apart in those first few months after Mark’s transplant. Renee could only visit a few times because she was heavily pregnant and the children weren’t able to see their dad because Mark’s immune system wouldn’t fight off viruses or bacteria. To ease the pain of separation, the family spoke by video link via the internet every night.
In March, Mark was discharged and returned home, but in April his doctors became concerned with his slow recovery and he was readmitted to hospital. On the same day Mark was diagnosed with graft versus host disease (a potentially fatal side-effect of the transplant caused by the body rejecting the donor cells), Renee was across town giving birth to their fourth child. They were saddened that Mark could not be at the birth.
The Graham family share the impact of Mark’s gruelling treatments, long stays in intensive care and the emotional and physical hardship of the past twenty six months. But as they look forward to this
Christmas, they appreciate more than ever how important it is to have the support of others through tough times and how precious it is to spend time with people you care about.
As a friend of the Leukaemia Foundation you understand the importance of our vital work. With your support, we are able to provide practical care to help families like the Grahams. We can also fund research to find better treatments and cures to create a brighter future.
Your generosity this Christmas will make a real difference.