26 Feb 2024

Celebrating every day Bex is given

“There are lots of things I’m angry about, everyone and everything, why me, why my children, and why am I actually angry as I was one of the people that survived?”

Bex in hospital

Bex had three traumatic brushes with death during her leukaemia journey, which started in the autumn of 2017 with a feeling of exhaustion.  

“My doctor said it was viral”

“My doctor said it was viral,” said Bex who was 49 at the time, born in the UK and raised in South Africa, but now living back in the UK in Merseyside. “But when I was getting home from work I could hardly walk up the steps to our apartment. The GP then gave me antibiotics, but by the Wednesday I couldn’t get off the sofa, and by the Friday my then-fiancé and now husband Dave said I’m taking you back to the doctors.”  

Bex’s GP sent her straight to the hospital in Southport. 

“I said to Dave ‘go home it’s probably hepatitis or something, I should be home by Tuesday’,” said Bex. “I will never forget the Saturday morning when a doctor came in. I said ‘what is it, do you know anything?’ He whipped the curtain round and said ‘we’re 95% sure you have leukaemia’. I kind of thought he was talking about somebody else. I said ‘pardon’? He said it again. He said do you have any questions? I was so upset, I couldn’t speak. My world imploded.” 

Rushed to hospital

Bex was rushed by ambulance to the Royal Liverpool University Hospital the same day, 21st October 2017. Dave arrived with Bex’s children Trystan, who was only 11 and at the time, and Tyla who was 17.  

“I’d got tickets to take Trystan to see Manchester United for the first time,” remembers Bex. “Dave assured him that he would go with him, and the nurses took him out of the room while we went through the really bad details of what was happening and filled in all the forms. The next morning Trystan sent me a song on my phone – Three Little Birds by Bob Marley. It was his way of reassuring me ‘every little thing’s gonna be alright’. It became a theme throughout everything that was to come. 

Bex with consultant Amid Patel and his team

“The next day I met consultant Mr Amid Patel, who is sadly no longer with us but I carry him in my heart. He and his team saved my life and he was a remarkable human being – my true superhero. He held both my hands and told me he was going to do a bone marrow biopsy so they would have a better understanding of the type of leukaemia. My amazing specialist nurse Sarah was also there – I still see her today. I said ‘do you think it definitely is leukaemia?’, and he said yes. And I asked him if I would lose my hair. He just said ‘we’ll fight this’.” 

‘The Bomb’

The biopsy confirmed that Bex had acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). She was put on a drug trial and immediately started on her first round of FLAG-Ida – which her oncologist said was known as ‘The Bomb’. 

“I wasn’t really ill with the first chemo. But I couldn’t eat, everything tasted awful and a bit metallic. I was still upbeat as I’ve always been a glass half full type of person. My daughter’s 18th birthday was on November 29th and I was allowed home to celebrate with her. This was a huge mental and emotional boost for me. 

Bex celebrating Tyla’s 18th birthday

“I had lost some of my hair at that point. Every morning I woke up and there was hair on the pillow. I spoke to one of my nurses and said ‘I want you to shave my head’. She got the clippers, checked with me three times to see if I was sure, then I closed my eyes and put my AirPods in. ‘Adventure of a lifetime’ by Coldplay was playing. This song is still my mantra.” 

Bex went into remission after her first round of chemotherapy.  

“I went back in for the second round on 8th December. I thought round two would be easy. Boy was I wrong. I got an infection in my PICC line which had to be moved, got heart palpitations and was sick all the time. I went down to 58kg. At 5’7” I was skeletal. I remember lying there looking at the basin a metre away from my bed and thinking I just can’t get there to brush my teeth.  

Diagnosed with sepsis

“I eventually started to pick up slightly but was still very ill. When I was discharged the first time they sent a physio to see me to assess if I was fit to go home. But this time it didn’t happen. I was sent home on December 22nd, still vomiting all the time. My daughter was with me looking after me as Dave was doing Christmas with his boys. He came back on Christmas Eve, looked at me and I was just grey, and he said I am taking you to the Royal. This was probably the hardest part of the whole thing, seeing my son and daughter’s faces waving me goodbye as Dave rushed me back to hospital. Thank God he did. It was later revealed I had sepsis.” 

Bex was put on morphine, antibiotics and large doses of potassium as it was found her body was completely depleted. 

“Dr Patel said he doesn’t know how I didn’t have a heart attack. My Christmas Day was spent with machines like spaceships pumping potassium into me, and 24-hour monitoring. During the first few days they couldn’t get on top of it, I kept going into shock, my temperature spiking and crashing, and I had uncontrollable shaking. I think the only nourishment that kept me alive for those weeks was, strangely, hot custard with chopped up banana! It was the only thing I fancied eating and the staff would make it for me. They called me the ice queen, not because I was cold but because I chewed so much ice. I would wake up and see a fresh jug of glistening ice. The care they gave was amazing.” 

Bex was finally sent home on 16th February 2018, partner Dave’s birthday.  

Angry at so much

“I was neutropenic until April. It took months to manage the stairs. I would go for a little walk to the end of the road with my son or daughter. Friends brought meals round and everyone rallied. Slowly slowly I got better. I also had to go on benefits because the company I’d been working for hadn’t paid me beyond six weeks. There are lots of things I’m angry about, everyone and everything, why me, why my children, and why am I actually angry as I was one of the people that survived? Working with a cancer psychologist has really helped me through that.”  

Bex on her 50th birthday

Remission for Bex was finally confirmed on 25th April 2018 and on 27th August she celebrated her 50th birthday. On 18th May 2019, she and Dave finally got married. Their first wedding date was cancelled because of her diagnosis, and Bex had then refused to get married until her long hair grew back, enhanced with real hair extensions.  

Bex and husband Dave on their wedding day

“This may seem ridiculous to most but it meant so much to me. I had five sessions with Linda McCartney’s Cancer Centre in Liverpool with amazing goodie bags, a make-up demo and massage. It was an incredible workshop and their ‘look good, feel good’ mantra is important to me.” 

Bex with her children Trystan and Tyla

In remission

Bex has now been in remission for nearly six years, although in January 2023 she had another traumatic brush with death. 

“I’ve had 15 bone marrow biopsies and this was the last one. They’re awful, they basically put a corkscrew into your hip joint, which is absolute agony. I had strong painkillers and gas and air and this time the pain was just off the scale. Afterwards I had a pain in my head but I went home. I woke up in the night as it had got far worse. This was on Monday night and by Wednesday I couldn’t walk due to the pain. The GP got me rushed into hospital and they did a lumbar puncture, found blood in my spinal fluid and said I’d had a brain haemorrhage. They did a scan with a camera into my brain ready with a clamp to stem the bleed but found thankfully it had already healed. I was in for a week and then sent home and wasn’t able to drive for two months. It was a one in a thousand risk, I was very lucky and again indebted to the staff at the Walton hospital.” 

Bex’s tattoo

To mark her recovery and five years since her diagnosis Bex had a tattoo on her wrist – the three little birds from the song her son Trystan had sent her right at the beginning.  

“That song followed me around, it seemed to come on the radio at odd times when I was going to hospital, and it kept me going through so much. My amazing Dave and my children – what a journey for them too and my children were so young.  

“The other thing that kept me going was my teacup Yorkie Coco who to this day is my absolute shadow. When I first came home she would just sit on my lap and stare at me and not leave my side.”   

Bex now works as a bookings manager for a guest house and is moving forward in her life with a positive attitude.   

“We lost 50% of the people who were on the ward with me when I was first admitted, including my friend Siobhan, she was the first person I met and she was only 30. I just had to keep telling myself when we lost one of us – that’s not my journey and I can’t feel guilty. I celebrate every day that I am given and I love the life that I live. My power mantra is ‘this too shall pass’.” 

Bex with her teacup Yorkie Coco

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