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March 18, 2020

Tiffany’s Story

In 2018, Tiffany Peel was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia, a cancer of the white blood cells. This is her story…

When you have cancer, your life suddenly becomes a different normal, a new normal.

A couple of years ago Tiffany Peel was a carer for people with dementia; she worked a 32-hour week, and often over-time too. Reflecting on this, she told us how her life changed considerably after receiving a diagnosis for leukaemia.

Tiffany said: “I used to love being normal. I used to complain about how little things would bother me, I used to catch a common cold and fight it, although I’d think that I was a dying duck. I used to go out on my own and see my friends and do things normal people do. Then I got poorly.”

The first red flag regarding Tiffany’s health was during Christmas 2017.

Tiffany experienced back-to-back cold viruses and flu-like symptoms that winter. The following spring, she caught pneumonia and was told that she needed 24/7 bed rest at home. After she finished a course of antibiotics, she was still feeling very unwell and was experiencing a lot of aching in her chest. Shortly after she also noticed small little red spots on her skin and a very sore small round hard lump under her left ear. After some blood tests and examinations at the hospital, in April, she received a diagnosis of AML – acute myeloid leukaemia. She was told she had the FLT3 mutation, which makes the cancer harder to treat.

Tiffany received two rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. Unfortunately, she caught further infections and illnesses and was admitted into hospital. Once she was feeling stronger, she began trialling some medication from America designed to treat mutant genes. She also received DLI- donor lymphocytes infusions. However, in September she relapsed, nothing was helping her situation. She then endured a further 8 weeks of chemo, infections, and problems with her liver. After a liver biopsy, she was told that she now needs further chemotherapy before she receives treatment for her liver condition.

When we asked her how she feels about everything she has experienced, she told us: “I actually feel alright about the treatments. I just feel the tiredness. There are lots of emotions going around my body and head; it feels like they are in a knot that I can’t untie. When you have cancer, your life suddenly becomes a different normal, a new normal. Once there was work, now it’s hospital appointment after another. It’s hard to get your head around.”

Something that has helped Tiffany has been the Free2Be Teenage & Young Adult Group held at Big C. She has also attended our “Look Good Feel Good” sessions and frequently pops into both our Kings’ Lynn and Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital Big C Centres for a cup of tea and a chat.

She said: “I’ve found the group extremely supportive. Big C are also just great in other ways too. I claim Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and they were amazing at helping me with a mountain of paperwork – they even sent it off for me. I would have really struggled to do that by myself.”

Big C hasn’t just helped Tiffany with practical support. She said: “Big C Centres are so relaxing. I’m a talkative person and I feel very calm and relaxed when I go there in between appointments. If I’ve had a bad day that’s where I head. When I started to lose my hair, me and Mum were sitting in the Big C garden and a piece of my hair fell out. I just took it in my hand and let go of it, and said ‘Bye, bye, hair’. If I was on the ward I would have cried but I didn’t at Big C, I felt safe there.”

She added: “The other thing I love about popping into Big C is that you can ask the staff there anything – they give you all the time they have. They are great with questions, they will give you an answer or they will know someone who can. You’re always welcome and I’ve met lots of people there who I’ve had a chat with. There’s lots of support for family and friends as well. They always ask Mum and Dad how they are, I think it’s great they offer support to loved ones too.”

Tiffany’s positive, thoughtful and upbeat approach to cancer has stood her in good stead. She enjoys meeting new people and helping others in a similar situation. Anyone she meets on the wards or those waiting for treatment alongside her, she will talk to, and support if she can. She has even started giving out cancer comfort packs on the wards. They contain all the different things that have helped her along the way including: information and signposting to Big C and other organisations, diaries, pens, a word search, snacks and refreshments. She has received donations from businesses and other individuals to support her quest, and tells us that so far, the response has been amazing.

She has also used creative outlets to support her wellbeing, as a happy distraction and a way to process her experiences.

“I always make sure I tell people that everyone’s experience is different, that’s important. I also write a diary every day, so decided to write a blog. I feel it’s really helpful to get my story out there, to help others.”

In addition to blog writing, she also enjoys cross stitch and drawing.

“My attention span isn’t good at the moment so these simple things have really helped. I also spend quality time with my family and partner. On the good days, I try to join my loved ones when they’re out and about as much as possible, so that when I’m in hospital I feel as though I’ve had a good dose of freedom, and when at hospital, well, that can be OK too, I can always pop into Big C for a chat if I need to.”

Read more about Tiffany’s story here on her blog:

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