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Australia gets shaving for people like Jenny

Publish Date: 9/2/2017

In March, Australians of all ages will accept the hairy challenge of getting sponsored to shave or colour their hair to help beat blood cancer.

Some have a personal connection to blood cancer, while others take part simply to have fun and raise money for a good cause.

Every day, 35 Australians will be given the devastating news that they have leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma or a related blood disorder.

When you sign up and raise money for the World’s Greatest Shave you can make a difference by giving families facing blood cancer the emotional and practical support they need. You will also fund vital research that will help more people survive blood cancers, while improving their quality of life.

People like Sydney’s Jenny Andrich.

At 26, Jenny was a newlywed to her childhood sweetheart, Michael. The couple had just moved into their own apartment and were renovating. Jenny was a full-time early childhood teacher and studying part-time for her primary school teaching degree and Michael was a physical education teacher.

But during the couple’s belated honeymoon in Bali, Jenny’s GP called to discuss the results of a blood test he had ordered to investigate why Jenny was being woken at night with aching legs.

After more tests when she returned home, Jenny was referred to a renal specialist and a kidney biopsy led to the “really early” discovery of amyloidosis. Covering a spectrum of blood disorders, amyloidosis involves the build-up of abnormal proteins in the heart, kidneys, liver or other organs.

“Usually amyloidosis has well and truly damaged the organs before it is diagnosed,” explained Jenny. “My kidney function was still normal but if I’d had it (undetected amyloidosis) for another six months, it could have damaged my kidneys or travelled to other organs.”

Working out what type of amyloidosis Jenny had took several months and involved tests in the UK, Brisbane and Sydney. The eventual diagnosis was the rare blood disorder – AL amyloidosis with kidney involvement.

“My doctors hadn’t treated anyone of my age with this condition,” said Jenny.

“A transplant is the best treatment for AL type amyloidosis, but not everyone can go through one. It depends on your heart, kidneys and other organs and the longer I waited to have the transplant, the worse my condition was going to get.”

Due to the possibility of becoming infertile from the high dose chemotherapy prior to the stem cell transplant, Jenny and Michael went through IVF. Jenny had eggs collected and embryos frozen and continued working and studying right up to the transplant.

Wanting to do something to help while his bride was in hospital, Michael signed up for World’s Greatest Shave. He rallied support from work colleagues including his school’s principal, students and families, and Jenny’s brother and dad also took part. Incredibly, Michael raised more than $18,000!

“When I approached my school about the event they were very supportive of the idea, and the whole school community, families included, got behind the fundraising,” said Michael. “Our families and friends were also extremely supportive with the event on the day going above and beyond our expectations.

Michael says the World’s Greatest Shave is raising important funds and awareness for blood cancers and disorders like amyloidosis.

“The Leukaemia Foundation has provided us with continued support since we began this journey almost two years ago,” said Michael. “It was nice knowing that a small gesture of participating in World’s Greatest Shave could help raise a lot of funds for a cause that could help my wife and many others in the years to come.”

Jenny describes her transplant on November 4, 2015 as a success, although the amyloidosis hasn’t gone away.

“I am in partial remission. The treatment has put my amyloid protein to sleep; it is lying dormant,” she said. “Thankfully, I’ve now passed the 12-month post-transplant milestone, which we’ve heard is really positive to having longer remission time. It’s looking like a five-year remission (I hope) and could be up to 10 or 20 years.

“I want to be healthy for as long as I can, hopefully have a family, finish my degree and be the best teacher I can be.”

Jenny is a member of the Leukaemia Foundation’s Amyloidosis Network Facebook group and keeps abreast of developments via forums and information nights.

By signing up for World’s Greatest Shave just as Michael did, you can help the Leukaemia Foundation continue to support Australians like Jenny and fund vital research into less harrowing treatments and cures. This year’s event aims to raise $17 million with your help. Please sign up or make a donation today.

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