Vicky F
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Hello! Let me introduce myself...

Vicky F
Posted by
23 Aug 2013

My name is Vicky Forster and I am a childhood leukaemia survivor and a leukaemia research scientist at Newcastle University. I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) on New Year’s day in 1995 aged seven. I had been ill for approximately six weeks beforehand and was progressively getting worse. I had a bout of pneumonia that just wouldn’t shift and was finally sent for blood tests. From that point on, I remember everything went very quickly. I was rushed into my local hospital, put on drips and blood transfusions overnight, which I remember as the most painful part of the whole experience. I had cannulas in both hands, and both of my arms hurt so much that I couldn’t sleep.

The next morning, I got to go in an ambulance (although sadly without the blue lights on!) to St. Bartholomew’s hospital in London, where I spent most of the next 3 months on induction chemotherapy, which is where patients have a lot of different chemotherapy agents, with the view to getting their leukaemia into remission.

I remember a few distinct things about that first period in hospital; one was that similar to most seven year olds I presume, I was not very good at taking tablets. I was used to things like Calpol and Tixylix when I had a cough or cold – I had never encountered tablets before. Suddenly, I was expected to take a handful of them three times a day and I refused. So much so that the nurse - a lovely, but firm lady called Clara - lost her temper with me and told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t take the tablets I would die. She wasn’t lying, and although I was horrified at the time, I have the greatest of respect for her deciding I was intelligent enough to understand such things, but too stubborn and headstrong for my own good. That, along with the bribe of a Gameboy from my parents sorted out the problem, and from then on, I became a pro at taking tablets even when I was nil-by-mouth and wasn’t allowed lots of water to take them with!

I also quite clearly remember having my hickman line (wiggly – are they still called that by the kids?!) put in, and thinking it really was rather cool. When I had the bags of chemo and saline attached to my drip – I used to go ‘skateboarding’ through the corridor on my drip (with someone to make sure I didn’t fall of course). It might seem a bit strange, I think most people would expect me to have bad memories of the whole experience and although I do have a few – most of what I recall are pleasant memories – a testament to the wonderful nurses, doctors and support staff like play therapists, teachers and porters who kept my spirits high and made the ward a nice place to be.  It’s so important when children and families are sometimes there for months at a time. I even had a favourite porter – his name was Steve, and he used to pretend that he was a gladiator whilst he was taking me for all of my scans and operations. He said I could give him a name and I decided that he should be called ‘Lampshade’ – I'm not really sure why, but I don’t think he was that impressed.

I remember all of their names, too. Annalise and Nina were my favourite nurses because they let me stay up at night playing games in the nurses’ station after the other kids had gone to sleep, Chris and Mandy were fantastic teachers, Joan was the ward secretary who used to bring me lots of presents and Bonamy was the main play therapist. They were all fantastic and if anyone who remembers me from the ward, please do get in touch, I would love to hear from you!

One of my best memories is that of meeting my hero – first British astronaut, Helen Sharman. She even let me wear the flight-suit that she wore on the mir space station (see picture below). Something I will never forget.

I had just over two years of treatment and then gradually, life began to return to normal. I went back to school full-time – still going to regular checkups, but the more time that passed, the less time myself and my family spent thinking about leukaemia and worrying that it would return. If I think back to my time in primary school now (despite the fact that I missed a couple of years on and off (I don’t really think about that part)) I think about school trips, making friends - some of which I am still friends with today - and doing cool (mostly science) projects. So to any families who have a child currently on treatment for leukaemia I would say this: there will be times where it seems as if life will never return to normal, where you might worry about the future and whether it will hold your child back but things will return to normal with time.

I’m going to be writing about a variety of topics, from my own experiences with childhood leukaemia, running and fundraising, the work I do now and research which I'm not directly involved in but think is important in the fight against blood cancer. If you have any suggestions for topics I could write about, or questions that you would like me to answer, please do leave a comment, or tweet me @vickyyyf

Comments

Anonymous
27.08.2013

Hi Vicky! Great job and an interesting read. Keep blogging. It's always good to hear from a past sufferer who has decided to devote their working life to blood cancer research.
I'm a 60 year old lymphoma sufferer though I'm not suffering at the moment. I'm also an endurance athlete and compete in ironman events and the like. My problem is (and I know a few who think the same) there is only so much fundraising I can do. It's limited by my circle of friend and family and the disposable income they have. In 2011 I did the London tri and this year cycled from London to Paris both for LLR. One event every 2 years and this year I struggle to reach the £1000 expected. But, both if these events were easy and no real hardship. I want to do more but don't know how. One thought I did have and this is where I'd like your opinion, is to champion a child in hospital similar to how you were. Do a taxing event on their behalf and hopefully have the help of the child's family (who may not want or be disposed to do one) to raise sponsorship. Is it a daft idea?
Anyway, keep up the good work
Andy

Anonymous
27.08.2013

I lost my son seven years ago,just before his 15th Birthday, to leukaemia and a Lymphoma relapse. Even though my story is a sad one, I am always happy when I hear of people like yourself who have come through it.
Wishing you lots of happiness.
Take care xxxx

Anonymous
27.08.2013

Great to read your experience
My grandson was just 18 months when diagnosed with ALL Now approaching four he is doing great and is a great joy

Anonymous
28.08.2013

An interesting read, bless the little pictures of you. So proud of you mate, you're an inspiration xxxx

Anonymous
01.09.2013

Hi Vicky,

Yours is a truly inspiring experience. Stay Strong!

George

Anonymous
06.08.2014

Inspiring story ! Please update on side effects if any as well as current update. When someone loosing hope these stories helps and gives hope. Please update your current status.

Anonymous
07.08.2014

I am so pleased you came through this to lead a healthy, happy and productive life. I was diagnosed with AML almost four years ago and my chances of survival were initially low. Thankfully, my brother was able to save my life through donating his stem cells and I underwent a transplant in February 2011. My experience of the conditioning treatment and extensive time on the wards of two hospitals is similar to yours, but I cannot imagine this experience from a childhood perspective. Thankfully you coped marvellously with fantastic support and are now giving something back as an adult survivor. Although I donate to Macmillan, raise awareness and have undertaken a charity walk, I still feel I could do more as not a day goes by where I don't marvel at how lucky I am to be here at all. I work full time and lead a 'normal' life but will never forget my experience with blood cancer. It is a total life changer and my heart goes out to anyone going through it. Wishing you all the very best for your future. Keep up the good work. Lynne x