Bishop’s Waltham resident Karen Cracknell is supporting Leukaemia UK’s appeal for funds this Christmas, having experienced the “devastating impact” after both her mother and father were diagnosed with blood cancer.
In 2001, Karen’s 59-year-old Mum, Patricia, was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) after a long period of fatigue and unexplained bruising.
Also known as bone marrow failure, MDS means that the bone marrow does not produce enough healthy blood cells. For Patricia to survive, her only option was a bone marrow transplant (now known as a stem cell transplant).
“If I try to talk to her about it now, she says it was such a dreadful time she can’t think about it, and has blocked it from her mind,” said Karen, 57, who lives near Bishop’s Waltham.
“She was in hospital for months, she lost all her hair, lost loads of weight, had mouth ulcers and skin sores, and was really low. It was awful.”
Fortunately, Patricia’s rigorous treatment was successful. Now aged 81, she continues to visit the hospital once a year for blood and bone marrow screening, and takes a regime of medication, but remains in good health.
Overall survival rates for leukaemia stand at just over 50% – making it one of the deadliest forms of cancer. Sadly, this was not to be the family’s only experience of blood cancer.
“My Dad hated going to the doctor,” Karen, who is pictured with her father, recalls. “He wasn’t the type to want a fuss – but I noticed he’d been losing weight and wasn’t as energetic as usual, so I kept pestering him to go. He always refused, until one day he wasn’t able to get out of bed.”
84-year-old John Burrell was blue-lighted to Southampton General Hospital in March 2021, where he was diagnosed with Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukaemia (CMML). CMML is a rare form of blood cancer which, like all forms of leukaemia, affects the white blood cells.
Karen said: “Dad refused treatment. We wanted to get him back home, but he went downhill so quickly it wasn’t possible. Because of Covid restrictions at the time, we could only see him one at a time for a short while and were not able to be with him at the end.”
John passed away on Friday 5th March 2021 – just five days after diagnosis. For Karen’s eldest son Alex Tilley, 24, the loss was particularly acute. “Grandad John was more than a grandparent,” said Alex, a Building Physics Engineer who lives in Leeds. “He was my constant – from shouts about cricket in his cherished garden, his love of football and fishing, to shared moments over roast dinners. Not being able to be there when he died is a regret I’ll always carry. I miss him all the time, but even more so at Christmas.”
Every day 27 people are diagnosed with leukaemia in the UK and, despite progress, only half of leukaemia patients will live longer than five years after diagnosis. This Christmas, Leukaemia UK hopes to accelerate progress by funding research into kinder, more effective treatments.
Motivated by a desire to help others impacted by leukaemia, Karen became a Leukaemia UK trustee in October 2022. She said: “Having seen what my Mum went through, I know leukaemia treatment is incredibly gruelling – which is why it’s so important to find kinder as well as more effective treatments. Having seen what my Dad went through, I know how important it is to be aware of the symptoms so that people can get a diagnosis and start treatment before it’s too late. So much more needs to be done to stop leukaemia devastating lives.”
Alex and his younger brother George, 21, have raised over £1,200 for Leukaemia UK through running half marathons. “Raising money for Leukaemia UK was an easy choice for George and I,” said Alex. “We know the impact blood cancers can have on people and their loved ones. We hope that the money we raise will further vital research and help someone else’s loved one in future.”
Fiona Hazell, Chief Executive of Leukaemia UK, said: “Christmas can be a very difficult time for families impacted by leukaemia – whether because they’ve lost a loved one, or because they or someone close to them is undergoing gruelling treatment that sadly, is not always successful. We firmly believe that research has the power to stop leukaemia devastating lives, and we’re investing in world-class research to find kinder, more effective treatments. We can’t do that without support from the public, and we’re so grateful to Karen and her family for bravely sharing their story to raise awareness.”
To donate to the Leukaemia UK Christmas Appeal, visit the website today.