Jane Blunt: my connection to leukaemia

58-year-old Jane has never run a marathon before. She reveals why she has come together with her sister Harriet to take on the London Marathon in memory of their brother Stephen who passed away 13 years ago after a battle with leukaemia… Jane shares her story here…

Stephen

“This year marks 13 years since we lost our brother, Stephen. He passed away just three months short of his 50th birthday in March 2011. He had battled acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) for about six years.

Stephen was a postman and started noticing that he was feeling extremely tired all the time. Eventually he went to see the GP who ordered a blood test. When the results came back, he was told to go to the hospital immediately. I remember talking to him while he was on the bus on his way there, with an overnight bag packed.  Shortly afterwards, he was diagnosed with leukaemia. 

My sister Harriet (now aged 56) was living in America at the time. She has been there for over 30 years.  And while we talk all the time, I have only seen her twice in the last ten years. Every time she comes to visit, I am in floods of tears when she leaves. 

We were told that Stephen’s only chance of survival was a stem cell transplant. Harriet and I were both tested to see if we could be a match, as was our other brother, Simon. It turned out that Harriet was a match and she flew back to the UK to donate her stem cells for Stephen. I remember all of us sitting with her while she was hooked up to machines. 

Unfortunately, although Stephen initially seemed to be doing better, his cancer returned.  It was a very difficult time for him and he was not an easy patient. He was frustrated at being dependent on people and insisted on doing things for himself.  When he became more unwell, he refused to go into a hospice. He did not want to think about the fact that he might die. By that time, he looked awful and was suffering with terrible hallucinations.  He moved to a home and it was there that he passed away in his sleep. 

Losing Stephen and beyond

Knowing that he was very unwell, I had called Harriet so that she could come over and see him. We did not know how long he had left. I remember her flight being delayed for a day due to snow, but Stephen held on to see her.  She arrived in the morning and visited him that afternoon. He hung on long enough to see her for a final time and then passed away that night.  I got a call at 2am to say that he was gone. 

I have experienced a lot of loss in my life. My father died when I was 11-years-old after a failed kidney transplant. My mum suffered with depression all her life and eventually passed away with dementia. I have no uncles or aunts left, nor do I have any children of my own. For that reason, my siblings are incredibly important to me and despite the many miles between us, Harriet and I are very close. 

Last October, I had Covid. I was very poorly, felt quite depressed and worried how I would ever get through the misery of the winter. I needed something to get me through and suggested to Harriet that we enter the London Marathon together.  

It had always been something that was on both of our bucket lists and I figured that if we didn’t do it now, we never would. I suggested to Harriet that we run in memory of Stephen to keep him alive in our thoughts. 

Harriet has run three marathons before – all of them in the USA – but that was 20 years ago and she hasn’t done anything since. She has a busy life with work and her children.  

I have never run a marathon before. In fact, after hurting my back 20 years ago, I hadn’t done any running at all.  Then, during Lockdown, I started gradually running again. I joined a triathlon club and have since represented Great Britain in the 55-59 age group competing in triathlons.  That said, while I am fitter than I was, I suffer with arthritis in my knees and following an injection last year, my knee specialist said ‘whatever you do, don’t run a marathon!’

So, here I am, challenging myself to the London Marathon.  I am spurred on knowing that I will have my sister running alongside me. It will be so special to spend time with her and to share that unique experience, all the while remembering our brother and raising both funds for Leukaemia Care and awareness around leukaemia.

Training is going OK, but it is hard. And the more miles I do, the more pain I feel. I had set myself the dream time of finishing the course in four and a half hours. But my time is actually not important. What I really want is a photo of me and Harriet holding hands as we cross the finish line together as a memory for Stephen who I am sure would be proud of us. 

It will be a huge mental challenge for me, but hopefully Harriet and I will cheer each other on. And the thought of Stephen and all those who have made donations for me, will drive me on to reach the end…”

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