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Theresa Webb: ‘I’ve always been a survivor’

Blood cancer casts a long shadow over many Australian families, but for Theresa Webb and her family, its shadow has been longer than most.

Theresa Webb celebrates her 50th birthday
Theresa Webb celebrates her 50th birthday

Theresa was first diagnosed with blood cancer in 2002 after discovering a small hard lump near her collarbone. A biopsy revealed the then 30-year-old had a type of blood cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

More than 7,000 people in Australia are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma each year and it’s one of the country’s most common cancers. It develops in the lymphatic system when cells multiply without any proper order forming collections of cancer cells called tumours. In most cases, it’s exact cause is unknown.

But just six months before her fight with blood cancer began, Theresa’s cousin lost his life to blood cancer aged just 32. Like Theresa, he was 30 years old when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma – a cancer that usually affects the over 50s.

Theresa said: “That was the first time I’d ever heard of lymphoma. I was very close with him; I’d lived with him at certain times of our childhood. He had a really hard time with it.

“Everybody in my family was really upset and shocked that the two of us, who were very close, had been diagnosed with the same thing. I was very shocked. I didn’t know what to think.”

Theresa’s blood cancer wasn’t aggressive so doctors decided to hold off on intensive treatment in favour of oral chemotherapy tablets.

Theresa said: “That was very effective and got me through five years, and during those five years I had Summer and then Jessi.”

Theresa settled into life in northern NSW with her daughters but when Jessi was just eight months old, her mum’s lymphoma returned. Thankfully it still hadn’t transformed into an aggressive cancer but Theresa needed more treatment, which helped keep her blood cancer at bay for nearly a decade.

She said: “During those eight years, I got to a point where I kind of forgot about it because I wasn’t taking any medication at all, and I was doing really well.”

Blood cancer returns with a vengeance

Theresa with her daughters, Summer and Jessi, on the day of her stem cell transplant
Theresa with her daughters, Summer and Jessi, on the day of her stem cell transplant

However, Theresa’s fight with blood cancer wasn’t over. In 2017 her lymphoma finally transformed into an aggressive and dangerous cancer and required urgent and arduous treatments.

Theresa explained: “I went through CHOP chemotherapy, the stem cell transplant and then radiation. It was a whole year and during that time I was still trying to keep up with everything the girls were doing. I was trying to be superwoman. I was trying to hold on to what I’d built.

“But that following year it all came crashing down because my body just shut down, literally, in all ways. It took a long time for me to pick myself back up again.”

But a few short years later, just as Theresa had completed her recovery and got her “ducks in a row”, her eldest daughter, Summer, felt unusually lightheaded and lethargic at work.

Theresa took her 15-year-old to the hospital where a blood test quickly provided a diagnosis: blood cancer. This time it was a type of blood cancer called acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).

ALL affects the blood and bone marrow. It is characterised by the overproduction of immature white blood cells, which can go on to wreak havoc in our glands, spleen, liver, brain and spinal chord. More than 300 people in Australia, mostly children, are diagnosed with ALL each year.

Theresa said: “It’s so hard to put into words what I felt at that time. I know my kids had just seen what I went through a few years prior and they were old enough to understand.

“I think it’s the most stress I’ve ever had in my life, even with all of my treatment and 20 years of lymphoma. I didn’t have any of the complications that Summer had. It was just so overwhelming.

“It is a really long treatment process compared to what I had with my blood cancer. It’s chalk and cheese; it’s a very different treatment regime.”

Financial wellbeing

Theresa with her daughter Summer on holiday in 2023
Theresa with her daughter Summer on holiday in 2023

A self-employed talent agent, Theresa admits the double diagnosis placed a huge financial burden on her family as she was unable to work regularly.

Theresa explained: “I took a hit obviously when I was sick and then it’s really hard to progress. You’re watching a lot of other people doing things that you could have been doing and progressing, financially as well.

“But I had a lot of experience not having a lot – and living off not much – so I knew how to do it.

“Work had to be dropped right back. All that I had built had to be scaled back. You can’t continue to do what you were doing; it’s completely impossible.

“The struggle is very real financially and it’s part of it.

“It was sad to have to drop most of my business throughout this journey with Summer. It didn’t matter because the focus was on her and there was no other way around it.

“The life of the child or the patient is the most important thing and that is always the priority. The financial things can come back into focus once that’s able to happen.

“But it’s a huge struggle and we have had to ask for help from charities, and the Leukaemia Foundation has been wonderful.”

The Leukaemia Foundation’s wraparound health services help you navigate the financial, emotional, physical and psychosocial challenges of blood cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship.

Theresa added: “There’s nothing you can do. It’s just part of it. You’re thrown into this situation that’s nobody’s fault.

“I was used to having to adapt and pivot in my life, so it wasn’t too hard for me to do because I’ve always been a bit of survivor.”

Theresa’s full story will be released on the Leukaemia Foundation’s Talking Blood Cancer podcast in late April. Subscribe and listen at

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