How my dream exotic lifestyle turned into cancer ordeal - but family and friends helped me survive
- Credit: Archant
She was living a dream life in the Philippines – but in an instant, her fairytale was turned upside down when she was given an unexpected cancer diagnosis that would change her life forever.
Yet despite having her exotic lifestyle brought to a shuddering halt when diagnosed with one of the most aggressive forms of leukaemia whilst abroad, Kelly Chambers says the harrowing experience taught her the importance of friends and family.
The 27-year-old from Chelmsford had jumped at the chance to go and live on the other side of the world when offered the job of a lifetime by the insurance firm she was already working for in the UK.
When not working, she spent many of her days sunbathing during the morning, swimming in the sea and scuba diving, as well as partying at night.
So when she began to feel overcome by tiredness, she thought it was little more than the side effects of enjoying a fun lifestyle.
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Little did she realise it was actually the beginnings of acute leukaemia, which progresses rapidly and soon takes over the body.
“It all came on in about the space of three days,” she said.
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“It was a fantastic opportunity to go another part of the world and I was having the time of my life. I definitely wasn’t ready to come home.
“I noticed I was feeling really tired and unwell. I thought I’d been burning the candle at both ends and I thought if I had a few early nights, I’ll be all right.”
When she began to get pains in her leg and was unable to sleep, she realised it was more serious and went to a nearby hospital.
Even then, she said: “I thought I could get some antibiotics and go back to work.”
But nurses dropped the bombshell that her symptoms had been caused by leukaemia.
“I was just shock,” Miss Chambers said of the diagnosis in June 2017.
“A few days before, I’d been fine. Never in a million years did I think it would happen.
“I just couldn’t believe it was happening when I was by myself on the other side of the world.”
Suddenly being on the opposite side of the globe was not so appealing, as Miss Chambers did not have those who loved her most by her side when she most needed them.
“That was one the hardest things,” she said.
But it was only the start of a harrowing ordeal, which would see Miss Chambers spend long periods in hospital undergoing exhausting treatment including chemotherapy and operations.
She was flown by air ambulance to a hospital in Manila for a bone marrow biopsy.
However she said: “I decided it was better for me to go home and get treatment, because I didn’t want to be starting cancer treatment on the other side of the world.”
She went straight to hospital in London when she arrived and would spend the next seven weeks there undergoing chemotherapy, which has to be completed in isolation after a bone marrow biopsy.
It meant she had to spend Christmas in hospital when all she wanted was to be with friends and family.
But that was not the end of her battle, as it was later the first bone marrow biopsy had not worked.
Her only chance of survival was a stem cell transplant in May this year, which meant another in hospital and yet more chemotherapy.
“Spending long periods of time in hospital is one of the hardest things,” she explained.
“You don’t realise how hard it is to be trapped in four walls, 24 hours a day.
“Mentally it’s really tough and you’re dealing with the physical side effects of chemotherapy as well.
“It was hard for my family as well, as it was quite a way for them to travel to see me.”
The second operation seems to have been a success and Miss Chambers is getting her life back to normal.
But the experience has taught the importance of having supportive family and friends in a time of crisis.
Asked what advice she would have for people battling cancer themselves, she said: “It’s important to just have good people around you.
“Your family and friends are important to you in that time.
“We all know family is important but it’s not until you go through something as serious as that you realise how much you need each other.
“I couldn’t have done it without my mum.”
Her second piece of advice is that: “Anything you’re going through is only temporary.
“At the time it feels like it’s never going to end. It felt like I was never going to get out of hospital.
“But you do – and when you do it becomes like a distant memory. You never forget it obviously, but you have to remember it’s not forever.”
During Kelly Chambers’ cancer ordeal, there were some moments of brightness, as the charity Willow – which organises uplifting days out to give seriously ill young adults a break – arranged for her to fulfil a life-long dream of going on safari, with an overnight stay at Kent’s Big Cat Sanctuary.
“My special day was as much for my mum and sisters as it was for me,” she said.
“My illness affected them all. They were the ones that had been there to support me through what has been the darkest of times that we have ever had to experience.
“Our time at The Big Cat Sanctuary really meant so much to us all and for my mum, to be able to watch me doing something I love and to have a glance of the old ‘Kelly’ again will stay with her forever.
“To be able to get away and forget about my illness, even for just a few days, has made the world of difference to us all, it was everything we had hoped for and more.
“After such a tough year where time together was not possible, we were able to smile and laugh together and create some new happy memories that we will all treasure forever. It really was the most perfect weekend.”