Rachael Cooke
Posted by
Rachael Cooke

Childhood leukaemia 20 years later

Rachael Cooke
Posted by
Rachael Cooke
11 Apr 2016

Today marks 20 years since my ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukaemia) diagnosis. Twenty years?!?!

Sometimes I feel like I remember every moment of my treatment... The finger prick blood tests, the leg injections, bone marrow tests and lumbar punctures, the drip stand, the blood transfusions, the isolation room, the ward, the hair loss, the dozen tablets every other Thursday, the arts 'n' crafts in the 'playroom', Duck Hunt and Donkey Kong and the numerous well-wishing visitors during the Christmas build up. Other times I feel like it's the fading memories of a film I once watched or a book I read, the life of somebody else that somehow got jumbled with my own.

Sometimes I wonder what I would be like, had I not had Leukaemia. Did it change me or was I always this way?! Would I be more compassionate for those suffering with colds rather than 'serious' illnesses? Would my outlook on life be less black and white because chemo wouldn't have blurred out the grey?! Would I still have straight hair?! Would I still have such an obsession with Disney films?! Maybe I'd be less socially awkward because I'd have spent more time with my friends, doing 'normal' things or maybe my skin wouldn't have been so pale because I wouldn't have had to wear total sun block for so many years.

I suppose none of that matters, not really. What I should I be thinking about are the doctors and nurses, who dedicated their time to make me better, the hundreds of visitors who came to the ward with gifts and activities to help pass the long hours.

I should fondly remember the porter Noah who would gleefully deliver my fish fingers and chips the afternoon after anaesthetic, knowing that I'd most certainly be sick after eating it but understanding how much I'd enjoy it anyway. I should gratefully remember nurse Debbie and her tough love approach to getting me over my needle phobia and the ward teacher, even though I pretended to be asleep every time she attempted to get me to 'school' and I should remember how invaluable my love of dance became in getting me out of hospital (even with zero neutrophils and low HB) to complete my ballet and modern exams or to perform in the shows.

I should and most definitely do remember all of the brave children and their even more brave families who we met during my 3 years of treatment. I should be thankful for my parents who juggled work and parenthood, always keeping it together in front of me even though they must have been falling apart inside and also grateful for my brother and sister who grew up for a while without a Mam and dad but never once complained or blamed me.

When pondering these things over the last few weeks, I came across a quote from another patient celebrating a big milestone and I suppose it pretty much sums it up for me too...

"I am not what happened to me... I am who I chose to be!"

So here I am, 20 years on... feisty, independent, strong minded, thick skinned, curly haired (and pale) and proud of it! Bring on the next 20 years!!!


Eleanor Baggley

This is such a wonderful, inspiring and motivational post, Rachael! Thank you for sharing what you've been through with us. It's fantastic to see what a difference twenty years makes and where you are now. Plus, that quote is excellent. Best wishes, Eleanor

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