Karen Orwin

Karen was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in 2002. After treatment, she was told she would no longer be able to have children, but Karen defied the odds. Read her story here.

On 8th August 2002, I was asleep on my desk at work and then in my car at lunch time. This followed a month of going backwards and forwards to the doctors telling them how bad I felt. I was given antibiotics and steroids to help get rid of the ulcers that I had in my mouth, but nothing worked and I was losing weight quickly.

On a Monday morning, I just about managed to go for a blood test, and then on Tuesday morning, the doctor came to my house. I had to be driven immediately to hospital where a bed was waiting for me. I wasn’t allowed to drive, probably because I could barely raise my head.

The haematologist told me that I had leukaemia, but they weren’t sure what sort. On the Wednesday, the results of the biopsy revealed it was acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). I was categorised as ‘Poor Risk’, with only a slim chance of survival, but I signed onto AML Trial 15.

As August ended and we were at the end of my first session of chemotherapy, things were not looking good. I was really sick and having a lot of blood transfusions. I had horrible abdominal pain, which turned out to be appendicitis and ovarian cysts, and I had an operation to remove them.

In March 2003, I was discharged. I had been sheltered for so long and leaving was frightening. Without my daughter and son, I would not have got through any of it and needed them now more than ever.

Fate had dealt me a blow that nobody ever thinks will happen to them. I was a single parent and I was financially destitute, as I had no critical illness cover, so all money had gone towards keeping the house. The children had to live with their Dad whilst I was in hospital and they grew up very quickly. I didn’t really like how independent they’d become, but I could do nothing about it. No child should have to watch that and especially for so long.

By September 2006, I was going from strength to strength. I moved in with a man that I’d met at work and for the next three years we just lived.

When I left hospital, I had to be put on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), because the treatment appeared to have brought on early menopause. However, after a year, my bloods showed the opposite. Then, in March 2009, I had to take a pregnancy test and it was positive. No woman had ever had children after this AML treatment.

My pregnancy was watched closely and the fear was always at the back of my mind. But on 4th November 2009, I gave birth to a beautiful and perfect little girl, Grace.

Seven years on, I am a single mum again. I have gone back to university at 50 and I have very little money, but I am happy. I could’ve chosen not to have the baby, but I’m so glad that I did. The questions as to how and why this happened to me will always be there, but I know I will never get the answers.

My nurses and haematologist are now part of my small family – she is Grace’s ‘Auntie Ann’ and Grace is her little miracle. My time in hospital turned out to be one of the most positive experiences and brought me back to life. I now have time.

2019 Update

Grace is now nine years old and at a beautiful village school around Bredon Hill where we now have our forever home. She’s growing up quickly, with a kind heart and is very sociable.

I lost my father to cancer which, for obvious reasons, upset me. I realised then that I wanted to spend so much time with Grace and gave up my university course. It was a hard decision but the right one.

I’m into the 17th year after my diagnosis now and feel happier than ever. We laugh a lot and try to make lots of good memories. My two grandchildren are growing up really beautifully too. I am truly blessed.

It still all seems like a dream to me because I don’t understand how I survived being so incredibly poorly. My haematologist needs a knighthood, she gave me so much strength and confidence.

To all Mums out there, there’s a lot of hope and goodness in the world.


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