"Being that I've been in that really awful situation, I have that further understanding.”
At just 3 and a half years old, Claudia was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia. After three rounds of chemotherapy, Claudia underwent a bone marrow transplant to remove the cancer completely.
Although it was a long time ago, Claudia still remembers a lot of really difficult times throughout her journey - skin sores and rashes, a lack of energy, body pain, and many friends she made during her treatment passing away.
Now, as an adult, Claudia still deals with many side effects from her treatment. Her heart needs constant monitoring, she also has sinus and breathing issues, and Graft vs Host disease.
Over time, Claudia started to lose her ability to walk, and her skin began to deteriorate. Initially, doctors suggested it was just another side effect, but later realised it was something more serious. Graft vs Host occurs when the transplanted cells and a persons own cells attack each other. It contracted Claudia’s joints so much that she now permanently uses a wheelchair, and has scarring all over her body. The skin on Claudia’s head literally fell off which - as you can imagine - is extremely painful. The wound was so deep it went right to the bone and took 7 years of treatments and surgeries to address. At one point, Claudia was having surgery every single day for a few months.
A weakened immune system meant Claudia ended up in hospital with pneumonia at the end of 2019. Being back in hospital brought back a lot of memories, and impacted her in ways she hadn’t imagined. Claudia had been struggling with PTSD and anxiety before getting pneumonia, but being back in a familiar hospital situation, and seeing how she reacted to anyone entering the room, it really hit home to Claudia just how much she was struggling with this.
This is something she is seeking help for currently and struggles to talk about with some friends. “A lot of it is that they associate it with soldiers and veterans, and there is a lack of understanding,” Claudia told me. “I haven’t done as much as these veterans so why am I complaining” she would think.
Luckily though, she can find support in other friends and family especially. “[It’s] so helpful having Mum who was there though treatments and surgery, and now feels like you don’t need to explain anything.”
Claudia likes to reflect on the support outside of her friends and family she has had when she was diagnosed with cancer, and since being in remission. Recently, she has met others who use wheelchairs and from them has learned a lot!
I really enjoyed hearing what Claudia found has helped the most from her supporters. Family and friends taking time out of their day to be with her meant the world. Having an especially attentive nurse when she was unwell with Graft vs Host. She’s concluded filling your life with love and small comforts is best.
“During that time, it was really great because so many of the nurses who looked after me were so caring. There was actually one who would come into my room and we would just sit and play games; no treatments or anything, just something to help me feel more comfortable and distracted.”
“I think also that it's maybe helped me become more empathetic and willing to help. Being that I've been in that really awful situation, I have that further understanding.”