Setting off on a half marathon would be a big undertaking for almost anybody. But for leukaemia survivor Natasha, taking on Walking Stars was just one step in her journey to cancer recovery.
Natasha’s cancer diagnosis came in January 2018, after she had noticed unusual bruising all over her body.
As a nurse at The Alfred, Natasha’s career was dedicated to helping people with their illnesses. That role was quickly flipped upside down.
“My daughter told me I should get bloodwork done. I said, “Don’t worry.”
Thankfully, Natasha took her daughter’s advice. Testing confirmed that the mother of two had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL), a rare form of cancer diagnosed in fewer than 200 adults in Australia each year.
“It was a shock,” Natasha, a Melburnian since emigrating here from Russia, said.
Natasha in hospital, before starting her treatment.
Her diagnosis began an incredibly difficult time. Natasha underwent six months of gruelling chemotherapy, causing her to lose her hair. She also had to have a bone marrow transplant, and was unable to work or enjoy her hobbies, such as knitting and reading. Through it all, she received incredible support from her husband David, their two teenage children and many more family and friends.
Her brother even went to the amazing lengths of flying from Russia to donate his stem cells. Though the surgery was a success, it wasn’t without its side effects. Natasha was soon diagnosed with graft-versus-host disease (GHVD), affecting her skin and muscles.
Difficulties like these made Natasha’s wonderful support network even more crucial during her cancer journey. As well as her wonderful family and friends, she also knew she could always lean on Cancer Council Victoria for help, thanks to services funded by generous supporters.
“When I was feeling very down I called the Cancer Council a few times and spoke to the nurses,” Natasha said. “I had a very good experience with that.” She also used the free wig-fitting service.
Natasha in hospital with her family before her surgery
Eventually, all of Natasha’s support, courage and endurance paid off. Doctors were soon using the word ‘remission’, and it wasn’t long after that Natasha was already planning how she could help other people with their diagnoses.
“This is why I wanted to do Walking Stars,” she said.
Walking Stars is a walking half-marathon leading from Alexandra Gardens through Melbourne city, which in 2019 was held on 7 December. Its purpose is to raise funds and spread hope for a cancer free future.
Natasha signed up for the event alongside a big and enthusiastic team of family and friends.
After months of training and fundraising, Walking Stars finally came – and Natasha says it didn’t disappoint.
“I thought it was amazing,” she said. “There was a great atmosphere, with lots of people and everyone supporting the cause.
“It was very inspiring.”
As well as finding support in being surrounded by thousands of others who had been affected by cancer, Natasha says her team did a wonderful job on the walk.
“I didn’t walk very far because of my condition, but all of my team – my family and friends – all did the half marathon,” she said. “I just can’t thank them enough.”
Natasha's entire team at Walking Stars in 2019.
It wasn’t just on the track that Natasha and her team made impressive strides. Their dedication quickly took them towards the top of the fundraising table, which Natasha believes will make a big difference to people affected by cancer in the future.
“Absolutely, it will make an impact,” she said.
“I hope it will go towards the nurses, towards research, and that every bit of it is helpful, helping patients with whatever they need.”
And while Walking Stars is now over for another year, Natasha still has a little way left to go in her cancer journey, with her GVHD currently being treated. However, she is feeling better each day: she’s taken up a few of her old hobbies, and even has plans to take on the half marathon again.
“I’m getting there – I’m starting to feel a bit more lifted up,” she said.
“My family wants to do Walking Stars again, and I can do it more next time! Absolutely I recommend it – so many people have said to me that it’s so great, I’ve heard lots of positivity. Everybody enjoyed the walk around the city.”
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