Standing strong together
DESPITE the storm that hit earlier on Friday afternoon, a huge crowd attended the 2017 Light the Night event. The friendly atmosphere was enjoyed by everyone in attendance. Jane Kerridge was our blue, Laura Sullivan our white and Angie Sims our gold lantern ambassador for the day that was set to fundraise for the Leukaemia Foundation.
TWIN sisters Jane Kerridge and Laura Sullivan have been through a lot together.
The two women from Stanthorpe have a close bond and when Laura was diagnosed with leukaemia last year, Jane tried everything to help her sister.
In October last year, Jane decided to attend Light the Night in Stanthorpe in support of the Leukaemia Foundation.
This year, Jane and Laura walked side by side holding a blue and white lantern.
Jane, who was the Blue Lantern Ambassador for the night, said she was happy to be able to go to Light the Night with her sister.
“Once Laura was diagnosed in March last year, I attended the very first one which was six months later in October,” Jane said.
“Laura was in hospital at that stage having treatment.”
For White Lantern Ambassador Laura, it was a special night.
“I am honoured to be back here,” she said.
“We haven’t lived here for 20 years. To be invited back as the ambassador is a big privilege.”
At Light the Night, people can buy different coloured lanterns to carry on the Light the Night walk.
Each colour has a different meaning.
Blue stands for support. If a person carries a gold lantern, it means they have lost a loved one to leukaemia.
White stands for someone who has been diagnosed with leukaemia.
“It is emotional to see the different colours,” Laura said.
“To see the yellow ones for people who passed away that’s tough because you know their journey has gone a different way but it makes you appreciate being here.
“All the blue means support and if you look around there is a lot of blue so there’s a lot of support.”
Laura said when she was first diagnosed with leukaemia Damien Anderson, who lost his wife to the disease, set up a Go Fund Me page in Stanthorpe.
“They raised so much money for me,” Laura said.
“It was beautiful, I’ve had so much support from Stanthorpe.”
Laura’s journey with leukaemia started last year in March.
“I had three months of chemo from March through to June and then I had a bone marrow transplant in July,” Laura said.
Jane was a perfect match for Laura, but the transplant was more difficult than expected.
“Jane was an exact match but she was actually too perfect so if they put her immune system into me it wouldn’t have worked,” Laura said.
“So then we had our brother tested but he wasn’t a match. They like it to be a perfect match. He was a 50% match so he wasn’t great.
“So they said we’ll look on the national register and found someone in Perth. A 23-year-old female from Perth.”
Laura said she felt lucky and was grateful she found a donor but there was still a long way to go.
“If you can hit five years then that’s a really positive sign that you won’t relapse but there is always the chance of relapsing within the five years,” Laura said.
“The only thing that they worry about after that is because you’ve had so much chemo and total body radiation is that you pick up a secondary cancer.
“You are much, much more likely to get other cancers.
“But, we’re here.”
After the transplant,
Laura had to spend 100 days within 25km of the Brisbane Hospital.
“So that’s when the Leukaemia Foundation put us in accommodation for four months,” Laura said.
“We had a three-bedroom, two-storey townhouse unit.
“We had free shuttle buses to and from the hospital.
“The whole house was decked out, all we had to take was food.
“It was all so caring and thought out.”
The White Lantern Ambassador said she appreciated what the Leukaemia Foundation had done for her.
“I just think it was a relief, I was stressed enough about moving away from the girls,” Laura said.
“It’s one less thing you have to worry about.”
Sister Jane said the Leukaemia Foundation was a good cause for which to fundraise.
“With the accommodation it was fantastic,” she said.
“It was one less thing that you had to try to organise.”
Mum Debbie Wren said the accommodation the Leukaemia Foundation supplied for her family took a great deal of weight off her shoulders.
“Just to know that we could stay somewhere,” Mrs Wren said.
“I have no words.”
Mrs Wren said the time following the transplant, when the family was living in the unit in Brisbane, was a dangerous one for Laura.
“If she got a fever or something we had to call an ambulance,” Mrs Wren said.
“Her immune system was so down.”
“Basically once you have a transplant you go back to a newborn’s immune system so I’ve got to go through my six months vaccinations, I’ve just had my 12 months vaccination,” Laura said.
“You have to be careful because a common cold in early days can kill you.
“I had to have a 24/7 carer so my mum and dad moved up into the village with me.
“We had a one-year-old and a three-year-old daughter at the time so he (Laura’s husband Brendon) kept working and looking after the girls at home on the Gold Coast with help from his parents.”
For the first 100 days
Laura spent close to the Brisbane Hospital, she was not allowed to go out and had to take strict precautions on what she ate.
“It will actually take years for it (the immune system) to build up to an adult,” Laura said.
“I had a flu last month and someone might take a week to get over it, it takes me two or three weeks to get over it.”
Laura said she tried to always stay grateful for what she had.
“I am pretty good compared to other people,” she said.
“It’s nice to be out.”
Jane said the past two years were a rollercoaster of emotions.
Laura was diagnosed with leukaemia on a Friday and started chemo on the following Monday.
“It was just instant,”
“They say if you don’t get your chemo straight away you have basically three to four weeks to live.”
After one-and-a-half years of treatment, Laura still has to visit the doctor regularly.
“You start with two blood tests a week and then you go once a week and once a fortnight and now once a month,” she said.
“But I am still on a lot of medication. It’s been tough but every day I think we’re getting better.”
It was beautiful, I’ve had so much support from Stanthorpe.
— Laura Sullivan
LIGHT IT UP: Twin sisters Jane Kerridge, Laura Sullivan with their mum Debbie Wren at Light the Night in Stanthorpe on Friday, October 6.
STRONG TOGETHER: An older photo of Laura Sullivan with her husband Brendan and their two daughters Isobel and Lucy.
Laura had a lot of family support at Light the Night with Cooper, Jen, Lucas and (back) Chris Wren walking with her.
Laura Sullivan at Friday’s Light the Night charity event that raised funds for the Leukaemia Foundation for patients like herself.