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Part Three: “If your daughter could save your life…would you ask her?”

This story is a first-person account, contributed by a member of our wonderful community – all words are their own.

Rowena with her daughters, Alycia and Haylee before starting treatment again in 2020.
Rowena with her daughters, Alycia and Haylee before starting treatment again in 2020.

I relapsed for the second time on Thursday, 25 June 2020.

It was at my one-year bone marrow biopsy that they saw the rise in the leukaemia cells. We did another biopsy two weeks later and the worst was confirmed – my blood canceracute myeloid leukaemia (AML) was back.  

They had tried their best, even topping me up with more donor stem cells…but my body wouldn’t allow it.  

It was back to Canberra for the third time for yet more chemotherapy. I would also need another stem cell transplant

Rowena and her oldest daughter, Ally.
Rowena with her oldest daughter and stem cell donor, Alycia.

Even though I had donor matches in the UK, the COVID-19 pandemic had caused a lot of logistical issues when it came to harvesting and transplanting cells from overseas. 

This time, my medical team decided to look closer to home and try a haploidentical stem cell transplant

This is a ‘half-matched’ transplant, which means a parent or child can be your donor. My 19-year-old daughter, Alycia, was a perfect half match and she said yes to being my donor! 

I got through chemotherapy with very few issues and was out in 23 days. I then spent five weeks at home with my family preparing for transplant number two back in Sydney 

Again, the Leukaemia Foundation came to our rescue with free accommodation right across the street from the hospital.

Alycia getting ready for her cells to be collected and the line to her fermoral artery.
Alycia in hospital to have her stem cells collected for the transplant and the line into her femoral artery.

My first born, my donor, my hero

Even after Alycia said yes, I had second thoughts. What if it doesn’t go well and something happens? She would never forgive herself. 

I know she is an adult, but she’s still my baby. 

She didn’t hesitate to say yes, but I still had feelings of guilt asking her to go through with it.   

We had a complicated relationship, especially in her teen years, but now we have come full circle. Blood cancer brought us back together.   

Rowena receiving her second transplant.
Rowena receiving stem cells donated by daughter, Alycia.

My mum said to me, “It’s really funny, at one-point you guys were wanting to kill each other, the next minute she’s saving your life.” 

The juggling act

The second transplant was a whole different kettle of fish to the first. While I wasn’t in as much pain, I was on different medications, that do different things and cause different issues.  

At one point, I was needing blood transfusions every single day and if it wasn’t my liver going wrong, it was my kidneys. 

If it wasn’t that, it was my central or intravenous lines giving me trouble. My body just doesn’t like them, and they caused clotting a number of times in my jugular artery or arm.  

Rowena struggled constantly with her intravenous and central lines.
Rowena struggled constantly with her intravenous and central lines.

I was in hospital for just under six weeks and it was a constant juggling act to keep me out of serious trouble.  

Confinement and COVID-19

During my second transplant the COVID-19 pandemic still had a hold of the world. 

I presented to the hospital with rhinovirus so was confined to my room, or my four-by-four cell as I liked to call it! 

I was only allowed two visitors while I was in hospital. I only saw my partner, Trevor, or mum the whole six weeks I was there.

Trevor and Haylee enjoying time together in the hospital gardens.
Rowena’s partner, Trevor with their daughter, Haylee outside in the hospital gardens.

Being a mum with a five-year-old daughter makes it extra hard as they are little petri dishes for germs and weren’t allowed on the ward.  

I got cabin fever and was scratching at the walls to get out. I was dying to see my baby. 

The minute I walked out of the ward I ran to my daughter, Haylee, fell on the ground, crying and cuddling her.  

I was finally free and this time, it seemed the treatment has worked. 

This is part three of the four-part series, ‘Rowena’s journey: Real and raw’. In her own words, Rowena McLean shares her harrowing four-and-a-half-year blood cancer journey in the lead up to World Blood Cancer Day, 28 May 2021.
Click here to read ‘Part One: Boxing Day, bloody noses and bust appendix’
Click here to read ‘Part Two: Needing some magic from ‘Mr Potter’’
Click here to read ‘Part Four: Fight for the ones you love and yourself’

Share your own blood cancer story

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Last updated on May 24th, 2024

Developed by the Leukaemia Foundation in consultation with people living with a blood cancer, Leukaemia Foundation support staff, haematology nursing staff and/or Australian clinical haematologists. This content is provided for information purposes only and we urge you to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis, treatment and answers to your medical questions, including the suitability of a particular therapy, service, product or treatment in your circumstances. The Leukaemia Foundation shall not bear any liability for any person relying on the materials contained on this website.