“It was like going through the four seasons”
While a blood cancer diagnosis is devastating for all patients, those from regional areas often feel the impact two-fold.
Not only are they faced with the biggest health challenge of their lives, but they also must leave work, school, family and friends to commence treatment in an unfamiliar city.
Rockhampton local Brendan Hodda was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) last September just three days before his 40th birthday.
“Within half an hour of my diagnosis I was admitted to hospital in Rockhampton awaiting transfer to Brisbane,” Brendan said. “Our lives were put on hold indefinitely with no idea when we could return home. But it was full steam ahead having my first chemo treatment on my birthday – I considered it my rebirth.”
AML affects the blood and bone marrow with an overproduction of immature white blood cells which are unable to function properly to prevent or fight infection. Treatment must start immediately after diagnosis as this type of cancer progresses quickly.
Blood cancer is the third biggest cause of cancer death in Queensland and across Australia, claiming more lives each year than breast cancer or skin cancer.
Brendan’s wife Roxanne reflects on that time saying she was riddled with fear when they were first given the diagnosis.
“There are no words to describe what it was like to get that phone call from our family GP, we didn’t even know what leukaemia was,” Roxanne said. “Then when Brendan relapsed 17 days after his first round of chemo, the doctor had to give us the hard truth: Brendan would need a bone marrow transplant to survive.”
Knowing they would now be staying in Brisbane long-term, the Hodda’s needed to find more suitable accommodation.
“At the beginning I stayed in a unit next to the hospital because I wanted to be as close as possible. Brendan was just so sick and I couldn’t bear to be more than five minutes away from him,” Roxanne explained.
After Brendan’s second treatment, our Support Services Coordinator, Maryanne Skarparis, convinced them to make the move to our ESA Village at Dutton Park.
“Maryanne explained the unit at the ESA Village would be completely free-of-charge and the Leukaemia Foundation would provide free transport to and from the hospital. She said we would be with other families going through the same thing,” Roxanne said.
“I was hesitant at first and scared of driving in the city, but now I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. We have received incredible support from the Leukaemia Foundation and from the other families we met and who have become lifelong friends.”
After staying in Rockhampton with their Aunt for the last term of school, in early December the couple’s two children, seven-year-old Matilda and Darcy, aged 4, joined their parents at ESA Village.
“It was so important and special for our family to be together again. The kids have done such a good job of coping with the terrible turn our life took and at making the village their new home. But they know things that kids just shouldn’t have to know at this age. Darcy even made a pretend intravenous line into his sister’s arm so she could have a bag of platelets,” laughs Roxanne. “I doubt many kids his age know what platelets are.”
After her initial reluctance, Roxanne was surprised how much they felt at home at ESA Village:
“I didn’t expect that amongst all the sadness and fear we could find some happiness. The village really gave us that sense of community and family in a time when we needed it most.”
“No one else can really begin to understand what you’re going through apart from the other families here. You go through it all together, sharing in the small wins and the devastating losses. Life in the village is a big rollercoaster but just someone popping their head in to say ‘how are you going’ can make all the difference.”