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Breaking barriers: Sharyn’s 130,000km journey to treatment

Blood cancer survivor Sharyn Polce has experienced first-hand the ‘postcode lottery’ of treatment, after travelling neary 130,000km in four years to access the treatment she needed.

Sharyn Polce at her 50th birthday celebrations
Sharyn at her 50th birthday celebrations

 

While we mark the tenth anniversary of Blood Cancer Awareness Month, Sharyn will also be celebrating ten years since her diagnosis with a blood cancer called chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML).

The mother-of-two from Perth was first diagnosed only two weeks after her 40th birthday in 2010.

“The diagnosis was life-changing and came just months after my best friend lost their child to leukaemia,” remembered the now 50-year-old.

Sharyn Polce with her children
Sharyn with her daughter, Dani and son, Jake

Six years after her diagnosis, Sharyn was still struggling to conquer the disease.

“I had been through four rounds of chemotherapy but just kept on relapsing and all other forms of treatment had failed,” explained Sharyn.

“My only other chance for a cure was a stem cell transplant which proved impossible. Out of the millions of people on the National Bone Marrow Registry, not one was a match.”

Sharyn was finally given hope with the chance to take part in a ‘first-in-human’ trial run by world-leading Adelaide CML specialist and Blood Cancer Taskforce member, Dr Timothy Hughes.

The trial was Sharyn’s only option and she had to relocate to Adelaide to be part of it.

Living with blood cancer for so many years meant Sharyn had been unable to work and had already sold her house. Money for accommodation and transport was tight.

Sharyn and her partner, Troy Pegrum, temporarily relocated from Perth into a unit at the purpose-built Bridgestone Australia Leukaemia Foundation Village in Adelaide.

Sharyn Polce with her partner Troy
Sharyn with her partner, Troy

The village is a home away-from-home for regional patients like Sharyn who are forced to relocate to capital cities for vital treatment.

“Without the Leukaemia Foundation there was just no way we could have afforded to stay in Adelaide,” said Sharyn.

“Because your life depends on these drugs and the trial, you’ve got no choice. You’re basically hoping these drugs save your life and kill your cancer before it kills you.”

Since 2016, Sharyn has been forced to travel back and forth to her trial in Adelaide every month, around 24 times in total.

Incredibly she has covered more than 129,000km and its cost her around $20,000 in airfares alone.

This Blood Cancer Awareness Month, the Leukaemia Foundation has prioritised ending the postcode lottery faced by regional patients.

Last year’s first-of-its-kind State of the Nation: Blood Cancer in Australia report revealed a 13 per cent gap in survival rates between patients in regional and metropolitan areas (5%), and between states and territories (8%).

By breaking down these barriers and removing variations in access to best practice treatment and care, Australia could minimise mortality and potentially save up to 22,000 lives by 2035.