A ‘healthy’ woman who went to the doctor for a simple check up has been left fighting for her life after she was diagnosed with a deadly cancer.
Back in March 2022, Hannah Thomas had the world at her feet.
She had just turned 30, was set to marry the love of her life, Simon, and was living in a hip inner-Sydney suburb with their beautiful dog, Bruno.
Life was golden and was only going to get better, with the starry-eyed couple’s magical wedding just a few months away and their dream of becoming parents on the horizon.
But after going to the doctor’s for a simple check up, Hannah’s perfect world and her hopes for the future came crashing down.
A routine fertility blood test revealed some abnormalities, and after further investigations, her doctor uttered three words that would change her life forever: “You have cancer”.
Hannah was diagnosed with T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia – a rare form of blood cancer that makes up just 10 per cent of all leukaemia cases in Australia, with a 50 per cent five-year survival rate in adults.
Despite showing signs of improvement following gruelling months of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, a full bone marrow transplant and follow-up infusions, Hannah’s cancer has returned.
The brave young woman is now fighting for her life in Singapore, where she hopes to take part in a clinical trial that she says is her “last hope” of survival.
“I am devastated that it has come to this, and it feels like our options are running out,” she told news.com.au from Singapore.
“Conventional treatment isn’t working, so our only option was to try something new and potentially risky.
“The best option for us is to try CAR-T cell therapy, and the only place that has accepted us is in Singapore.
“It will cost $400,000 just for the trial. We’re anxious because we don’t know how we will come up with the money in time, and if we do, we will be so far away from family and friends.
“We have no idea what is going to happen, or if it will even work, but we have to try.”
Her friends and family have set up a Go Fund Me page for Hannah, who, along with her husband, has been forced to consider withdrawing from their superannuation funds in order to pay for life saving treatment.
From sore throat to shocking diagnosis
Hannah, a Senior Policy Officer for NSW Health, explained that her only symptom to point to something possibly being awry was a having a sore throat and a few lumps in her neck.
However, it was not until she underwent a simple fertility test – which was suggested by a close friend to get some peace of mind for the future – that doctors detected an abnormality.
“I had a few lumps in my neck, but I just thought they were swollen glands or even knots,” she said.
“It’s so easy to dismiss your worries. Life gets in the way, and even though I had been to the doctor for the lumps and had the referral to check them for weeks, I waited until the fertility blood test to do a bit of ‘life admin’.
“It is so strange, because I hadn’t even thought about doing a fertility test, but my close friend Ali really encouraged me to get it done, as I was thinking about having kids.
“I will always be so thankful to her. Without her, I’m not sure when I would have found out that I had cancer.”
After that initial blood test, Hannah had the lumps in her neck checked through ultrasound.
That same day, the doctor called and asked her to come in straight away, which struck her as unusual due to Telehealth being the preferred method of communication at the time.
The doctor explained that her white blood count was high, and booked her in to see a specialist.
But what happened next made Hannah’s blood run cold.
“I remember my doctor saying ‘I don’t want to alarm you, but go to the pharmacy and buy a thermometer’,” she recalled.
“She told me that if my temperature rose above 38 degrees celcius. that I needed to go to the hospital straight away.
“I knew something was wrong with my bloods, but just didn’t realise how serious it was. My partner and I kept thinking it was nothing.
“But then I was given the details of my specialist appointment, and saw that it had been booked into the ‘Kinghorn Cancer Centre’.
“It was at that moment that it began to feel like my life was falling apart.
“I tried to hold it together, but that night when Simon came home, we just both fell into a heap and cried together. That night he held me so tight.”
Straight into treatment
Within the space of two days, Hannah’s life turned completely upside down – going from getting a blood test done to being told she had leukaemia.
The young couple’s wedding was meant to be a few months away, with Simon set to celebrate his bucks party that same weekend.
Hannah says having to break the terrible news to her family, who live in Canberra, was one of the hardest aspects of being diagnosed with the potentially deadly condition.
With little time to let the dust settle, she went straight into getting treatment with five rounds of chemotherapy, as well as undergoing a bone-marrow transplant.
During this time, she contracted sepsis twice, suffered from pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) and had a severe case of mucosities (inflammation of the mouth and gastrointestinal tract membranes), which all took a toll on both her physical and mental health.
“The whole thing has been awful, and we don’t know what the future holds,” she said.
“Everyone expects you to say something exciting when you call and ask them if they are sitting down. I could only tell my mum, dad and brother, and Simon told everyone else.
“I can’t imagine how tough that would have been for him.
“It was so strange to go from such an exciting time in our lives, to fighting for my life.”
After her treatments, Hannah’s friends and family rallied around to help the couple have the wedding of their dreams, with the pair finally getting married in May 2023.
“Our wedding day was filled with love, laughter, and many tears, but for once they were happy tears,” she said.
“My extended family from the UK flew over, which made the whole thing perfect. My favourite part of the day was seeing my beautiful husband and all our groomsmen shed a tear as I walked down the aisle.
“Simon and I have been through it all. I can’t give him the same future we always wanted, but even at my lowest moments when I feel completely unlovable, not once has he ever made me feel like I wasn’t worthy of love.
“It takes a very strong and selfless person to make the sacrifices he has, and I will always be grateful for the strength and love he shows me each and every day.”
Before they tied the knot, her bestie Caitlin helped throw her a fun-filled hen’s party, where all her girlfriends wore wigs in a powerful display of solidarity with the bride-to-be.
“I had no hair at that point due to treatment, so everyone wore a wig so that I wouldn’t be the only one,” Hannah said.
“We stayed at an amazing Airbnb and played so many fun games, had a super fun drag dinner and then we danced the night away.
“I had the most incredible sparkly dress that I bought years ago for my initial hens before all this, and it felt so good to finally be able to wear it.”
An uncertain future
Although the long journey ahead is unknown, Hannah says she will never lose hope and will continue fighting for her life.
She hopes that by sharing her story, she can both raise awareness and help connect with others who might be going through similar difficult times.
Hannah and Simon are currently together in Singapore, where they will wait and see if they will be accepted into the clinical trial.
“We are scared and we don’t know how many options we have left,” she said.
“There is always that fear I may not make it. I even started writing letters to my husband after he left the hospital room for the day.
“It was just in case I wasn’t able to be there to tell him how I feel about him. I thought at least he’d have a small book of love letters from me.
“Knowing I might not be around for the life my partner and I envisioned, and the life we’ve worked so hard for is really hard.
“I feel like I can’t really engage in conversations about the future, because unfortunately I just don’t know what mine will look like, and for a 31 year old that is devastating.
“I have so much life left to live and I refuse to give up or lose hope. I have to fight this, and I will continue to do so with everything I have.”