Art display lets cancer survivor share her story

Aileen joins others with leukaemia in telling the story of her cancer experience. Picture: Contributed.
Aileen joins others with leukaemia in telling the story of her cancer experience. Picture: Contributed.
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WHEN Aileen Lamb went to her doctor with severe headaches and loss of appetite she was sent home twice with a course of antibiotics.

But after no improvement her concerned GP took a blood test and hours later Aileen was given the heart rending news - she had blood cancer leukaemia.

Aileen's name appears in the installation in Paternoster Square. Picture: contributed

Aileen's name appears in the installation in Paternoster Square. Picture: contributed

And now the 44-year-old, from Morningide, is sharing her story as part of a large scale art installation in one of London’s busiest squares.

She is one of 104 people with blood cancer, chosen from across the UK, to have their story told as part of the installation in Paternoster Square.

“For four weeks prior to my diagnosis I’d been exhausted, experienced severe headaches, night sweats and loss of appetite,” said Aileen. “I was treated with antibiotics twice and following no improvement I was booked in for blood tests at 2.30pm on Wednesday 16th September 2015. By 8pm in the evening, I was told I had leukaemia.”

Aileen spent almost three months in hospital and received three rounds of intensive chemotherapy. A stem cell transplant was her best chance of long term survival and luckily a donor was identified. She underwent the transplant in February 2016.

Aileen, who is a patient ambassador for charity Bloodwise, said: “It’s important to find innovative ways to raise awareness and communicate the impact of the disease. This installation has the potential to reach new audiences who would not otherwise hear about blood cancers. The degree of personalisation means that people learn more about blood cancer and can really engage with the stories of people affected by it.”

The installation, next to St Paul’s Cathedral, marks the launch of the ‘Make Blood Cancer Visible’ campaign supported by the blood cancer research charity Bloodwise and eight other blood cancer charities and patient support groups.

Aileen’s name, constructed in three dimensions at her exact height, with a summary of her blood cancer experience, features alongside other patients’ names and stories and plinths highlighting facts about blood cancer. The pharmaceutical company Janssen commissioned artist Paul Cocksedge to create the installation, which is available for the public to visit until 30 September.

She said: “The chemo completely wiped out my immune system and I had a couple of re-admissions due to infection. I received 44 units of blood and over a dozen of platelets while undergoing treatment and awaiting my stem cell transplant. Although the recovery has been tough, I’ve not had too many challenging side effects. The fatigue was dreadful, but gentle exercise has helped. I suffered from almost constant nausea for around five months following transplant and had to force myself to eat.

“Friends, family and my employers have been amazingly supportive throughout it all. My husband, Steve, has been my rock and has supported me in every possible way. He’s never once let me feel that we’d not come out the other side of this.”

Alasdair Rankin, Director of Research at Bloodwise, said: “It is great to see so many charities joining forces on this campaign and making blood cancer visible.”