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Mater medical scientist Carolyn George shares her story of survival

For the past 18 years, medical scientist Carolyn George has walked the halls of Mater as both an employee and patient.

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“I joined Mater Pathology as a medical scientist in 1992 and my first experience as a patient came three years later when I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said.

“I was 32 years old and it caught me rather by surprise,” Ms George said.

Her treatment included a lumpectomy, removal of lymph nodes, chemotherapy and radiation.

“I was able to have my radiation therapy in my afternoon tea breaks,” she said.

Ms George soon went into remission but there were more health battles on the horizon.

“Around seven years post-breast cancer I was diagnosed with acute leukaemia,” Ms George said.

“There’s rather an irony in that as being a medical scientist and working in the Haematology department, I’m trained to recognise and diagnose leukaemia and I had it as well.”

“There are a small percentage of women with breast cancer who can go on to develop other cancers, in particular leukaemia, and my chromosomes showed that was likely to be the case for me.”

Ms George was immediately admitted to hospital.

“It’s one way to get out of the 5pm to midnight shift in the lab,” she laughed.

Faced with an aggressive form of leukaemia and a poor survival prognosis it was recommended that Ms George have a bone marrow transplant if a donor could be found

“Over many years I have assisted doctors with bone marrow biopsies and I found myself, in 2001, on the other end of the needle,” she said.

“It was a very difficult journey but I knew it was probably my only chance of survival.

“I have since completed all the milestones and I am now eight years post-bone marrow transplant.

“I have had a couple of health issues since the transplant and in 2004 I had a minor heart attack which we believe to be result of all the treatment that I’ve had.

”So I’ve really done the rounds of several of the wards including oncology, intensive care and cardiac but I’m still vertical.”

Ms George said she felt a great sense of satisfaction when she returned to work after her bone marrow transplant.

“It was fabulous to come back to work and the response from my colleagues was wonderful,” she said.

“Throughout my many illnesses they’ve been very supportive and nurturing. It’s almost like a family having worked here for 18 years.

Ms George said the greatest lesson she has learnt has been to treat each new day as a privilege.

"The gift of time is the greatest gift you can give someone and, as a result of a willing and compatible bone marrow donor coupled with medical research and advancements, I have been given an extraordinary amount of extra time," she said.

“I no longer put off doing things for a rainy day. I use all my fine bone china crockery and crystal glasses everyday, I stop and smell the roses, and I hug the people I love at every opportunity.”

 

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