Doctor's illness highlights struggle

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

Emma Hounsell and daughter Rebecca are among thousands of Kiwis who have to cope with the effects of a blood cancer. Photo / Richard Robinson
Emma Hounsell and daughter Rebecca are among thousands of Kiwis who have to cope with the effects of a blood cancer. Photo / Richard Robinson

As a doctor at Starship children's hospital, Emma Hounsell has seen first hand what young leukaemia patients and their families go through.

But having to face her own battle with the disease has brought a whole new understanding and challenge for her.

This week is the Leukaemia & Blood Foundation's annual Leukaemia Awareness Week and to mark it, a series of short films dubbed Leukaemia: My Story have been made, following several families.

Mrs Hounsell is not one of those who have been filmed but she hopes their stories will encourage people to donate to the foundation that has helped her young family for the past few years.

The 39-year-old was diagnosed with leukaemia two years ago while she, husband Grant and their young daughter lived in Melbourne.

After a few days feeling ill, she saw a doctor. "I just felt sore ... funny aches and pains, but I didn't think it was anything major.

"I was diagnosed with acute leukaemia. I was really sick and I ended up on life support for weeks. I pretty much almost died."

The couple had moved to Australia in 2009 hoping to live and work there for a year before moving back to New Zealand, where they have lived for the past 13 years.

She was admitted to the Royal Melbourne Hospital and started chemotherapy treatment.

The family decided to move back to Auckland later that year when things began looking up for Mrs Hounsell.

"Unfortunately I relapsed in November last year. I had a bone marrow transplant this Easter. But again, the leukaemia came back.

"At the moment it's gone and I'm just about to start chemotherapy in the next few weeks and get ready for another bone marrow transplant from my brother."

She has learned to accept that she has leukaemia, but said there were tough days.

"I have a 5-year-old little girl. When I went into hospital last time, she asked: 'Are you dying, Mummy?'

"I was quite upset, I didn't want a little girl to be having thoughts like that."

The Hounsell family are among thousands of Kiwi families who get support and financial help from the Leukaemia & Blood Foundation.

About 2200 New Zealanders are diagnosed with a blood cancer each year. It is the fifth most common cancer in the country.

Executive director Pru Etcheverry said with so many people affected by a blood cancer in New Zealand, it was important to educate and raise awareness.

"I don't think most people know just how common it is. Six New Zealanders are diagnosed with a blood cancer - leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma - every day. So we very much value any opportunity to raise awareness," Ms Etcheverry said.

"People can visit our website to learn a little more about the people affected as well as their families because ... it's just as difficult for their families."

For more information and to watch the films, go to: www.leukaemia.org.nz

LEUKAEMIA IN NZ

* Six people are diagnosed with a blood cancer (leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma) every day
* Leukaemia is the most common childhood cancer.
* About 10,000 Kiwis live with a blood cancer.
* Blood cancers combined are the fifth most common cancer.
* Leukaemia Awareness Week runs until Friday.

- NZ Herald

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