When Lucreta was diagnosed with leukaemia three years ago, doctors warned her chances of survival were slim. But her passion for running, the help of specialist counselling and a successful clinical trial came together, she says, to help her through her treatment journey

Diagnosing her with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) at the age of 65, Lucreta's doctor told her he was amazed she was "still standing" after looking at her blood test results.

"I was at death’s door. I was very tired but I just thought I was overdoing it," she says.

"The day I had a blood test my GP phoned me and told me to pack an overnight bag. I was admitted to hospital and stayed there for a year."

After months of debilitating treatment and a series of complications, doctors told Lucreta she had suffered a relapse and there was nothing more they could do for her.

"I bawled the place down. I got a friend to phone round and get a burial plot at my local cemetery for me. I had to make sure I got all my affairs in order."

But a few weeks later, Lucreta's doctor heard of a new clinical trial taking place at King's College Hospital in London and suggested she should be involved.

Lucreta, who was awarded an MBE in 2004 for services to her community, has raised more than £100,000 for charity over the past three decades. She took up running 25 years ago following the break-up of her marriage and is convinced she was offered the chance to go on the clinical trial because she had been fit and active.

'Counselling saved my life as well as medicine'

After she was transferred to King's, she was also offered post-bone marrow transplant counselling in group sessions led by haemato-oncology counsellor, Philip Alexander, a position initially funded by Leukaemia UK and the first of its kind in any hospital in the UK.

"Counselling saved my life as well as medicine. Without it, I'd be a mess," she says.

"It has got to go hand in hand with the medicine. You can read about what is going to happen to you, but reading isn't enough, it's just words. If you meet someone and listen to them, and they to you, out it all comes. So, counselling is a must.

"I didn’t go to the group counselling straight away, because I was scared of what I would hear. But once I'd started going, I regretted not going earlier. I learned that all the time I was worrying about things, I was wasting my time. I had burned myself out.

"Counselling helped free up my emotions which meant I could concentrate on recovery and returning to normality."

Later, Lucreta also had one-to-one counselling sessions with Philip.

"Somehow, when I started talking about my fears with Philip, they melted away. He seemed to know how I was feeling and had real empathy."

Undergoing treatment, returning to running

Lucreta underwent a stem cell transplant and three blocks of chemotherapy and spent long periods in isolation as a result. She also had to deal with chronic Graft versus Host Disease (GvHD), which particularly affected her gut and one eye.

"I kept getting infections, but finally one of the doctors insisted that I was allowed out of my room. They knew I was a runner. I was allowed to go up and down the ward and walk with my son along the corridor."

When she was discharged from hospital, she was delighted to be given the green light by her doctor to begin running again. She began by walking around a rug in her home and then progressed outside, initially marking out 25 paving slabs, before making it to the end of the road and, finally, around the block. Two weeks later, she rejoined her Park Run group, which is where she is pictured above.

"I got to the Park Run and they were really nice to me. One girl was on the right and one girl was on the left and they ran with me. They kept encouraging me, saying, 'you can do it'.  Everyone was so kind."

Counselling helps with life after treatment

Lucreta, who is also a poet, went into remission in December 2016. She continues to have complications and occasionally still sees Philip.

"Initially, I focused on treatment, recovery and normality. When you achieve that you have to cope with space and learn to fill it, so you don't worry too much. At the moment I am adjusting to being on my own, without so many appointments and clinics to attend. Philip has helped me deal with this."

Lucreta volunteered to take part in a fashion show to mark Cancer Survivors Day.

"I had to meet a photographer as part of the fashion show. I put on a dress and looked at myself in the mirror – which is something you don’t do during treatment – and I thought, 'you’re doing OK'. I felt good. It was nice to look in the mirror and smile at yourself and find yourself again."


We published this story in May 2018, when Lucreta shared her brave AML experience with us. We were saddened to hear Lucreta passed away in December 2018 and our thoughts are with her family. We will always remember Lucreta's determination and are grateful to her for sharing her story to raise awareness of the importance of receiving emotional support for those affected by blood cancer.