After leukaemia: I look at life through different eyes
Since retiring in 2006, Sunshine Coast couple Richard and Heinke Butt have led a very active life, walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (below), reaching Mt Everest Base Camp, and trekking up Mount Kilimanjaro.
Things changed dramatically for the couple when they were enjoying a quiet camping holiday in July 2014. Richard received a surprise phone call from his GP.
“She wanted to see me to discuss some recent blood test results,” said 65-year-old Richard. He had been having routine monthly blood tests for a blood disorder called essential thrombocythaemia (ET), and after seeing some abnormal results, Richard was referred to a haematologist in Brisbane.
“That late evening consultation is a moment in my life I will never forget. The transition from normal life to complete turmoil was instantaneous,” Richard said. The following week, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). “I knew I was going to beat this disease and a steely determination welled up inside me from that moment.”
Chemotherapy and stem cell transplant
Richard started chemotherapy immediately, and went into remission after his first round of treatment. However, to give him the greatest chance of survival, he would need a stem cell transplant.
“On December 11, I received my life-giving stem cells from my donor and the long road to recovery began,” Richard said.
Three weeks after the transplant Richard was affected by relatively serious skin GVHD and was put on high dose steroids to control it.
“But the side-effects of coming off the steroid over five months were difficult – it was a trying period,” he said. Despite the setbacks, Richard remains positive and matter-of-fact, explaining it’s “just hurdles to get over on a journey like this”.
Leukaemia Foundation Support
With treatment based in Brisbane, Richard and Heinke had to relocate from their Sunshine Coast home.
“We were fortunate to get a self-contained unit at the Clem Jones-Sunland Village where we stayed for five months. It made a huge difference,” Richard said.
“Apart from the financial aspect, to be in a facility with its own network of patients and carers who are in a similar situation, and if you consider the support staff aspect – even though we were fortunate and didn’t need a lot of that – it was huge.
“We met lovely people who will be friends for life,” said Richard, who found out about the Leukaemia Foundation’s Blood Buddies program several months ago and recently completed his training.
“It was a Godsend for me to talk to people who had already gone through a transplant and I thought if I could do the same thing, it would be a good way of giving back.”
Now, Richard says he feels “excellent”.
“In some respects my life has taken a turn for the better because I tend to appreciate everything I do.
“I look at life through different eyes and don’t take anything for granted.”
He and Heinke are looking at tackling another goal on their bucket list, one they were working towards when the news came in that Richard had AML.
“As soon as I get clearance, we’ll go high altitude trekking to Aconcagua, a peak in South America.”