REAL LIFE

My festive stress turned out to be deadly

'I had 15 per cent chance of survival'
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Sharon blamed her tiredness on festive prep, but it was a lot more serious.

Here, Sharon Frazer, 49, tells the story in her own words.

Collapsing down on the sofa, tiredness instantly hit me.

Why is the build up to Christmas so manic?I thought.

With four kids, Hannah, 19, Georgia 18, Charlotte, 17, and Matthew, 15, things were frantic – even if they were almost adults!

As well as rushing around getting pressies for everyone, I was also helping out at a local charity. But although the festive period was always busy, I had never felt this lethargic before.

family past
Me with the kids when they were little

I’d also noticed a few bruises on my thighs, but assumed it was from clumsiness.

Brushing my teeth that night, my gums started bleeding.

‘That’s a bit strange, keep an eye on it,’ said my hubby Robert, 48, after I told him.

And a few days later, as I wrapped up gifts, I spotted some bruises on my palm.

‘This is a weird place to get a bruise, don’t you think?’ I asked Hannah. ‘Mum, this isn’t normal, I’m booking you a doctor’s appointment,’ she insisted.

The next morning, I sat with my GP as I listed my symptoms.

‘I’ve also been having a few nosebleeds,’ I added. ‘I’m going to take some blood tests,’ she said.

Back home, I’d totally forgotten about the whole thing when the phone rang. It was my doctor. She wanted me to pack a bag and immediately go to Royal North Shore Hospital. What was going on?

With Georgia and Hannah by my side, I had some more tests. Then the unthinkable was confirmed. I had aggressive acute myeloid leukaemia – cancer of the blood and bone marrow. My body wasn’t able to produce normal blood cells.

‘We’re going to start chemo right away,’ the doctor said. And long-term I’d need a bone-marrow transplant.

‘If you’d come any later, we wouldn’t have been able to save you,’ added the doc. My head was spinning. How could I be so ill and not have known? By now, Robert had met me at the hospital.

‘You’re going to be okay,’ he soothed as I wept in his arms.

during treatment
Matthew, Robert, me, Georgia, Hannah and Charlotte, during my treatment

Given a seven-day course of chemotherapy, I felt sick as the treatment started. Bleeding heavily from my nose and mouth, I needed blood-platelet donations to keep me alive.

While family and friends rallied around, I also updated my two brothers, Aaron and WaiMarn, in Malaysia.

‘You can get through this,’ Aaron reassured me. But I felt terrible and, devastatingly, the chemo didn’t work and I had to have a second round.

By this point, it was approaching Christmas. ‘Don’t worry, Mum, we’ll bring the party to you,’ said Georgia.

So on Christmas Day, my lovely family turned up at hospital armed with a feast of a traditional turkey and all the trimmings.

But despite our joy, a few days later, I had some bad news – the chemo hadn’t worked. I had just 15 per cent chance of survival.

‘I’m not ready to go. I want to see the kids go to uni and get married,’ I cried. ‘You have to stay strong. I’m with you all the way,’ Robert soothed.

My new option was to try a combination of trial drugs and chemo.

Meanwhile, the search was on to find a bone marrow transplant – my one true chance of survival.

Watching the New Year fireworks from my hospital bed, I only had one wish for the coming year. Please find me a match, I hoped.

A few days later, my doctor came to see me and clutched my hand.

‘We’ve done a worldwide search of 30 million donors, but there’s no matches,’ he said. My heart dropped.

brother donates
My brother Aaron donating his bone marrow

How was I possibly going to overcome this?

The last option was my brothers. I already knew WaiMarn wouldn’t be able to do it as he has haemophilia, so I phoned Aaron and he agreed to get tested.

After an agonising 10 weeks, my doctor came to me with news. ‘Aaron is a match!’ he said. I’d been given a second chance to live!
Aaron flew over so the treatment could begin. ‘Thank you so much,’ I said, bursting into tears.

By the time the transplant took place it was March and I had been in hospital nearly four months. But the process was so much easier than we had thought. ‘It was as easy as donating blood,’ Aaron smiled.

My immune system was still extremely low and a few days after the procedure I ended up with an infection.

Aaron had to go back to Malaysia and I was unable to even hug him goodbye.

Finally, at the end of March, I was free to leave hospital. As Robert drove me home, I asked him to stop off at the beach.

today
Me and Aaron today
first Christmas after transplant
Our first Christmas after the transplant

Sitting on the sand, I took in the fresh air and listened to the waves. This is what life is about, I thought.

Today, my survival chances are up to 80 per cent.

It’s thanks to my brother – and other blood donors – that I’m still here.

Don’t underestimate the importance of donating blood this Christmas. You’re literally giving the gift of life.

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life, on sale now.

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