When Cancer Bonds Us

No one quite understands the trauma of being diagnosed with cancer, suffering through treatment, and then attempting to pick up the pieces of your life once its ‘over’. Unless you’ve been through it too. Never mind doing all of that twice.

Throughout the years of being in this alternate universe I have been lucky enough to have met and made some lifelong friends, bonded by some seriously awful shit. Leanne Thompson was one of those people; my friend, confidante and fellow cancer buddy.

This is the small world we live in: Leanne first got in touch through my leukaemia facebook page that her husband Gavin had come across. His cousin happened to be my friend Heidi’s childhood friend. I was on my second diagnosis, mid 2015, having had two rounds of chemo that year already (one of which landed me in ICU) and had just gone into isolation the week before for the bone marrow transplant. I don’t have the words to convey the extreme loneliness of being in there, even with all the visitors and the constant stream of various medical professionals bugging you 24 hours a day. There was pity, worry, sadness, discomfort and likely a multitude of other things usually present. But when Leanne messaged me, it seemed to come from a place of simply knowing. She was well versed in the lingo, having had a transplant roughly 8 months previous, and offered something different. Not to say I didn’t love the visitors of course! But relationships already strained from the first diagnosis were further frayed by the stress of the second.

Hannah, Adele, and Leanne on Retreat

Hannah, Adele, and Leanne on Retreat

Six months later I found out not only had I won a scholarship to attend a yoga retreat in Raglan in January 2016, but Leanne had also won! Thankfully Adele, who runs the retreats, couldn’t decide between us. What an emotional rollercoaster that was! We both left with renewed vigour, eager to embrace and be present for our lives. Try happiness on for size. Leave cancer in the past.

Leanne, a school teacher, was looking forward to starting back at work full time shortly after the retreat. It wasn’t to last. Less than a month after the retreat Leanne relapsed for the 3rd time, shortly after celebrating her first ‘birthday’ (bone marrow transplant recipients often call the day they receive the donor marrow as their rebirth due to a completely new immune system).

Feels like I am having an outer body experience as I type this, still doesn’t feel real somehow. Leanne passed away just over a week after her second transplant in January this year.

I miss her. I miss our rants about whatever weird and wonderful procedure we’re going through at the time, bitching about our rubbish health, and our black humour about ‘positive’ people. Like that’s the answer to everything…..ooops tangent! Just to clarify it was never talked about meanly, probably more like a wish we hadn’t had our lives shattered multiple times. Tends to be those who haven’t had some life-threatening illness that tells you to ‘keep positive’. Just saying.

It rocks you to your core when someone on a similar path passes away. Not only does grief knock you sideways, the reminder of your own near death experiences come screaming to the surface. Add in survivors guilt, and it’s a seriously confusing disorienting pile of shite. I turn two in July. Fingers crossed.

Leanne wrote a few blogs with me and on her own that Whole Lotta Life published. I never got to tell her about my new job. There’s lots I’m selfishly missing. I remember her saying before the retreat we went on, “imagine a room full of us! For now 2 is awesome!”.

Hannah and Leanne in Wellington hospital

Hannah and Leanne in Wellington hospital