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Mums battling rare blood cancer together become best friends: ‘I’m going to kick cancer’s butt!’

Kellie and Rita have each other's back
Curly and Spiky!
Spiky and Curly!
Supplied

During the toughest battle of her life, Kellie found a friend forever. Here, Kellie Devlin, 53, from Geelong, Vic, tells the story in her own words. 

Sipping my coffee at the kitchen sink, pain ripped through my left leg.

I feel like I’ve been shot! I panicked.

Dropping the cup, coffee splattered as I crumpled to the ground.

Am I having a stroke? I worried, as my limb went numb.

My hubby, John, a truckie, had already left for work and I needed an ambulance.

‘Baby, please get Mummy’s phone,’ I sobbed to our nine-year-old, Daisy.

Me, John and Daisy.
John, Daisy and me. (Credit: Supplied)

At hospital, I had an X-ray, then I was discharged to await the results.

The next day, I limped in to work, but then my GP phoned and insisted I come in straight away.

‘Kel, they think you’ve got myeloma,’ he said, gently.

‘What in the hell is that?’ I asked, confused.

‘It’s a rare blood cancer that attacks bone marrow,’ my doctor explained. ‘That pain in your leg is actually
a tumour.’

Eating away at my bone, it had caused my femur to weaken and nearly snap.

Shocked, I almost glanced behind my shoulder to check he was talking to me.

Aged 51, I felt perfectly healthy.

‘Am I going to die?’ I asked, worried.

‘I don’t know,’ he replied.

It was unthinkable. John and Daisy needed me…

After countless tests, I was officially diagnosed, and started chemo.

Five months on, I was at a blood cancer support group.

In a few weeks, I was to have a stem cell transplant to replace my bone marrow with healthy cells. The treatment was so brutal it could kill me.

I’m not planning on going anywhere – bring it on! I thought.

Sitting in a circle, one by one we shared our stories.

Hunched over, with a walking stick propped against her chair, the woman opposite me, Rita, couldn’t stop crying when it came to her turn to speak.

The poor thing was so upset, her lovely daughter, Laura, then 26, spoke for her.

It turns out, we were both battling myeloma. Just over a year apart in age, we each had a daughter, and Rita, who worked in aged care, also lived in Geelong.

At the end, we got talking.

‘I’m too scared to have the transplant,’ Rita confided.

So I gave it to her straight.

‘You’re 52 years old and hunched over like an old woman! You’re stuffed if you don’t have it. You might be stuffed if you do – but it’s probably the lesser evil,’ I said. ‘Come on, you’ll be alright. We’ll be in there together.’

Swapping numbers, we promised to stay in touch.

A few days later, I had an appointment with my transplant coordinator.

‘We’re so grateful to you, Kellie,’ she said.

‘What for?’ I asked.

‘Rita’s signed up for her transplant!’ she exclaimed.

Chatting on the phone, Rita and I understood each other completely.

When I was in hospital a couple of weeks later for my transplant, Rita came to visit.

Nine days in, my hair was falling out, and tubes and wires snaked from my body.

In hospital with Daisy.
In hospital with Daisy. (Credit: Supplied)

‘It’s just part of the journey,’ I told her. ‘Don’t be frightened. The only way to the other side is  through it!’

While I was back home in just over two weeks, everything that could go wrong for Rita, did.

I went back to work, but she was in hospital for two-and-a-half months.

She could’ve killed me – but we giggled about it.

‘How did you get off so lightly?’ she’d laugh.

Rita in hospital with her daughter Laura.
Rita in hospital with her daughter Laura. (Credit: Supplied)
John and me.
John and me. (Credit: Supplied)

We’d crack up at the same jokes and were both dags.

When our hair started to sprout again, mine came back crazy curly, while Rita’s dark locks were growing back spiky.

‘I’m Curly and you’re Spiky!’ I laughed.

Blood buddies, we’d even go to have our regular check-ups together.

At the hospital, we were like celebs!

‘Oh, here they are… the terrible twosome!’ the nurses would laugh.

Curly and Spiky!
Spiky and Curly! (Credit: Supplied)

About six months on from her transplant, Rita went back to work.

A year on, this February, Rita came with me to the specialist. We were both feeling fabulous. But my test results told a different story.

‘You’ve relapsed,’ the doc told me, gently.
Looking at Rita, her eyes brimmed with tears.

Golly, here we go, I thought, crushed. ‘We’re going to fight it,’ I told John and Daisy back home that night.

Now, I’m back on chemo, and awaiting a second stem cell transplant.

How you going, love? Rita will text.

Cheekily, I’ll send her a green vomit emoji back.

But she gets it like no-one else would.

Recently, I was at the hospital when Rita popped by with an almond latte.

‘Thanks, Spike,’ I said.

And when John is at work and Rita ferries me home from the hospital, she usually has a cake waiting for me in the car!

By convincing her to get the transplant, Rita says I saved her life.

Lovely Rita.
Lovely Rita. (Credit: Supplied)

But I need her just as much as she needs me.

‘I think you’re going to be okay, Mum,’ Daisy, now 11, said recently.

‘So do I,’ I grinned. I want to go grey with my husband, and watch my little girl grow up.

My beautiful family.
My beautiful family. (Credit: Supplied)

Besides, Spiky and I still have to get old and enjoy a few chardies in the nursing home together!

You just watch – I’m going to kick cancer’s butt!

Rita Mauri, 55, says:

It’s amazing to have this person there with you, doing the same thing as you are, and knowing that she knows what you are going through. I’m thankful that we’ve got each other.

September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. For more on blood cancer and the Leukaemia Foundation, visit leukaemia.org.au

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