personal stories

Leukaemia Awareness Month: Using grief for something positive

Images: Kerri Walter (@kerriwalterphotography)

Google defines Leukaemia as "a malignant progressive disease in which the bone marrow and other blood-forming organs produce increased numbers of immature or abnormal leukocytes. These suppress the production of normal blood cells, leading to anemia and other symptoms." In layman's terms, it is cancer of the blood where, as more cancer cells are produced, the body is less capable of making healthy white blood cells - the guys that help us fight infections.  

September is Leukaemia Awareness Month (referred to as Blood Cancer Awareness Month on this side of the pond) and, while it is all good and well knowing what Leukaemia is in theory, it is a disease that affects more than just the person's blood: on an emotional level, it is a horrible disease that affects not only the sufferer, but the people around them, too. 

According to the Cancer Research UK website, 27 people are diagnosed with Leukaemia each day, and one in 63 men, and one in 94 women, will be diagnosed with the disease during their lifetime. Five days before her 25th birthday, Georgia Hutchins passed away from this form of cancer. 

"I didn't know much about Leukaemia when I found out Georgia had it, apart from that it was cancer of the blood. Initially, I thought she'd stand a good chance of fighting it because she was so young and healthy - there was literally nothing wrong with her, yet she was gone within three months of diagnosis," said her friend, Zoey Lewis. 

Zoey & Georgia - Image: Zoey Lewis

Zoey & Georgia - Image: Zoey Lewis

Georgia and Zoey met in secondary school; they sat next to each other on their first day of year 7 and hit it off straight away. Throughout school, they were inseparable, doing normal things all girls growing up in Essex do, along with the rest of their friendship group.

"I can't really remember a situation when Georgia wasn't there when we were growing up," Zoey reflects. "Even if she wasn't in my class, she'd be helping me revise and, after leaving school, she was always at the end of the phone. She would always text us at 6am on Christmas Day without fail and we had long conversations on the phone during every Eurovision contest."

As the girls got older, Zoey recalls that Georgia was excellent at organising things and would be the one to set up a dinner, or other plans, for the friendship group: "you could always count on her; she would never let you down or let you be forgotten."

Georgia was diagnosed with Leukaemia in February 2018 and, unfortunately, Zoey was unable to see her at the time as her immune system was quite vulnerable. However, she seemed quite upbeat and positive on the phone, and was really quite blown away by everyone's response. 

Throughout her illness in the months that followed, meeting up obviously became harder. "I bought her lots of little pampering gifts, which ended up staying at my desk at work because she'd be too tired. Also, if I, or anyone else, had a cold or an illness, we were not allowed to visit in case it harmed her immune system."

On 24th May, Georgia sadly succumbed to her illness. However, despite her grief, Zoey is channeling her energy into doing something positive in Georgia's memory. "I couldn't just let her go without doing something for her as a thank you for everything she did for me in the past. At the funeral, I learned apparently Georgia was so blown away by the care she received that she said she'd be poor for the rest of her life because she'd give all her money away to charity! That was the point I silently said to her, "okay, let's do this"; Georgia had cut off her hair when she was told she'd probably lose it and she donated it to charity. Her bravery and selfless attitude made my shave seem really simple. I had nothing to lose apart from my hair, whereas Georgia had everything on the line."

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"[When I first shaved my head] everyone said I really suited it! The first week or so, I did get a few stares from people on the street, but I don't notice them anymore. I feel proud to know the reason I don't have any hair, even if the people looking at me don't know!"

On a jovial level, Zoey noticed a few things: "wind is a strange experience. Showers are strange, too. I reach for my hairbrush in the mornings automatically, then laugh. I keep going to brush my fringe out of my eyes and tuck my hair behind my ears, or play with my ponytail, forgetting it's not there."

Currently raising money for the Teenage Cancer Trust, at the time of publishing this piece, Zoey has raised £3,710 on her JustGiving page alone, but has also done other things, like bake sales, that have added to her fundraising total. "I think Georgia would have been happy with [the bake sale]; she was excellent in the kitchen."

Zoey added: "I'm grateful for the time we live in - I would never have been able to raise this much without the use of social media and being able to reach out to the people I didn't know, but Georgia did."

Teenage Cancer Trust, along with Clic Sargent, supported Georgia throughout her illness and Zoey plans to also do fundraising for the latter within the year. This stretch has been her first time fundraising for charity and credits her success to Georgia herself: "if she hadn't been so loving and giving, most people wouldn't have given this a second thought."

To donate to the Teenage Cancer Trust on Zoey's JustGiving page, click here.

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