Empty Chairs – Catherine Buchanan

Currently, thanks to advances in research and treatments, three out of four people diagnosed with blood cancer in Northern survive. But one doesn’t.

Catherine Buchanan, from near Bangor, is one of those people. She lost her battle with blood cancer in 2013. She was only 17 years old.

Catherine was your typical teenage girl. A student of Strathearn in East Belfast, she had a close-knit group of friends she spent lunchtimes and weekends with, many of whom she had known since she was a child. She was bright, and had a love of science. In fact, she wanted to be a scientist and dreamed of going to Cambridge. She had just started filling in her application when she started to feel ill.

Her parents, Richard and Julie, didn’t think much of it at first – teenagers often suffer from short bouts of illness – but when Catherine wasn’t feeling better after three days, it dawned on them that something wasn’t right.  They took Catherine to the out of hours GP who immediately sent her to the Ulster hospital, she was then transferred to the City hospital for further urgent tests and it wasn’t long before an answer was found – she had a very rare and aggressive form of blood cancer called Acute Promyelocytic Leukaemia.

What followed was a whirlwind week for both Catherine and her family, her condition declined rapidly and she was rushed into treatment.  She began an intense regime of chemotherapy and although this was successful in targeting the cancer cells, there were a number of side effects.

On September 21st, one week after her diagnosis and with her family by her side, Catherine died. She left behind cherished memories for those who knew her, and a deep hole in their hearts.

Since Catherine’s death, Richard Buchanan, her father, has become the new Chairman of Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI, and has written a diary about his experience in that final week of Catherine’s life. In two weeks we will share this story from his perspective.

Three out of four people now survive blood cancer. But for that one in four, there’s still a lot to do. Funds raised by Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI pay for the pioneering work of a team of researchers in Belfast. Blood cancer treatment is their only focus.

We’d love it if you shared Catherine’s story, spread the word and help support our work. Together, we can help reduce the number of empty chairs created by blood cancer.


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