I was a new mum with blood cancer
Mother’s Day will be extra special this year for young mum Sarah Fazulla.
This year’s will be 27-year-old Sarah’s second Mother’s Day – but the first she’ll be celebrating cancer free.
Last year, as she held her beautiful first baby, Blair, she didn’t know she had blood cancer.
Just weeks later, she was hundreds of kilometres from her home in Broken Hill, NSW, taking her own first steps on what was to be a long road of life-saving treatment in Adelaide after being given the double diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and lymphoma. Both are dangerous types of blood cancer.
“At first I refused to get on the plane. I had a little baby. I was still breastfeeding. I couldn’t just up and leave. It required some planning. I had lots of other things going on at the time,” Sarah said.
Sarah didn’t want to be apart from Blair – and luckily her mum, Pauline, was there to help.
Becoming a carer
Pauline left her 15-year-old son at home and her business in the hands of her husband and took on the care of her baby granddaughter, while helping Sarah through her treatment.
For the past 12 months the family has been able to stay with the Leukaemia Foundation as Sarah spent weeks in hospital. Every day, Pauline bought Blair to see Sarah so they could spend as much time together as possible – not knowing what the future would bring.
“When Sarah was diagnosed I was very much overwhelmed,” Pauline said. “But I felt I had to hold it all together for her because she not only had herself to think of, but also Blair.
“I was extremely worried we might lose her. It was very hard.
“I never really thought twice about dropping everything to come with her. She is my girl, and she was going through so much at the time. She needed me.
“During the first block of treatment Sarah was in hospital for 38 days. I had Blair the whole time. Luckily she was a fantastic baby and she would eat and sleep so well in the hospital, and Sarah loved having Blair there.
“I’m sure it helped Sarah with her treatment. It kept her positive and hopeful.”
Feeling lonely during cancer
Pauline said at the end of the day there was time for a quick meal, bottles and bed before it would start all over again the next day.
Pauline added: “It was extremely lonely at that time, never really knowing what was going to happen.
“I was lucky I didn’t really have much time to think about it, as I was too busy looking after a baby, running into the hospital to be with Sarah as I didn’t want her to be on her own, and I knew she wanted to be with Blair.
“When we moved into the Leukaemia Foundation accommodation, it was overwhelming to think I wasn’t going to have to worry about the cost of staying in Adelaide for an extended period. I was really relieved.
“Word’s cannot express how I felt. It took a lot of worry off my mind.
“There is a wonderful community here. We support each other and the staff are the best. I don’t know what we would have done without the Leukaemia Foundation.”
Stem cell transplant for blood cancer
Sarah’s treatment was long and difficult. At times she was having three doses of chemotherapy in one day, as well as lumbar punctures – with the treatment being injected directly into her spine to kill off any hidden leukaemic cells.
There were many debilitating twists and turns in Sarah’s treatment, and eventually it led her to a stem cell transplant.
In May 2020, Sarah reached day 91 of 100 post-transplant, only days away from going home after almost 12 months in treatment.
Mum Pauline was by Sarah’s side every step of the way, keeping baby Blair by her side so Sarah was able to continue to be a mum, too.
“I am looking forward to being a mum properly. I’ve lost so many days and nights where I was unwell and couldn’t do normal mum things,” Sarah said.
“I appreciate all the little things now – it’s all the little things I look forward to.”