"I sat in stupefied silence .. How could I possibly have leukaemia? How did I get it? Why did I get it? Was I going to die? If so, when?"
At the age of 56 Pauline Dewberry felt content with her life. She had sons and grandchildren, the company of six cats, church life, projects and plans. Then she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML).
"Hold it there", you may think. "You're suggesting I read a depressing, medical-term laden memoir of a leukaemia survivor?" Not at all. I'm recommending a story of hope, faith, prayers, purring, medical marvels, friendships, and an unexpected love story.
"I asked what would happen if there weren't any (stem cell) matches. I was told that they would just make me as comfortable as they could and basically wait for me to die." By the greatest good fortune, Pauline's brother turned out to be a match. But there was a long road to travel after that.
The author set down this often raw account of her seemingly interminable -and near to actually being terminal - battle with cancer to share how 'despite the odds being stacked up against you, it IS possible to look your enemy in the eye and win'.
Pauline describes her illness and treatment with such clear language that it is easy to comprehend. As well as being informative about AML, this candid account will be a valuable eye-opener, I think, for the friends and family of anyone who is locked in a prolonged battle with ill health, not only with cancer. The author does not shirk from telling of the moments of indignity and additional trials involved. And then there were the rashes, the maddening itches, dry mouth, sleeping too much, then being unable to sleep, no appetite, everything tasting awful, then sugar cravings, the nagging worry about one's changed appearance... On it goes, all the things that a healthy person (like me) would simply not realise an cancer patient is going through.
Health is not only about the body, of course, but about the strength of the spirit. The author's fears and doubts will resonate, I think, with many people dealing with a long illness. There were days of despair despite knowing that hundreds were praying for her.
But she also found humour in unexpected things. The rumblings of her room-mate, Mr Fridge, for instance had me laughing. Although distressed by the loss of her hair, she talks with good humour her new headwear. Deciding that the scarves made her look "like a Russian peasant wringing her hands at a failed beetroot crop" she opts for her faithful beanie. Pauline valued her 'Purr-atherapy'. She describes how her cats would curl against her at home and purr her through many dark hours. As time passed, each of her purr-ers died, sadly. But two new cats, Casey and Gibbs, introduced themselves into her life.
This is a true story of great odds surmounted and of quiet daily courage. And remarkably Pauline found 'autumnal love,' even at such a time as this.
One woman's heart-warming story of life, love, determination, and refusal to give up.