Empty Chairs – Elaine Murray’s Story

Currently, thanks to advances in research and treatments, three out of every four people diagnosed with blood cancer in Northern Ireland survive. Elaine Murray from Newry is one of those people. 

Elaine was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia in March 2013. She was 53 years old. 

You would have to search far and wide to find someone friendlier than Elaine. Born and raised in Newry, Elaine is a retired Nurse who enjoys nothing more than spending time with the apple of her eye, grown-up daughter Jessica. 

But in March 2013, Elaine’s life was turned upside down. After collapsing at home one day, she was rushed to Daisy Hill Hospital, via casualty. It was there that a diagnosis was confirmed – Elaine had blood cancer and to say she was terrified would be an understatement. 

Bearing in mind she had spent her entire career nursing people, Elaine had far more knowledge and insight than the average newly-diagnosed patient. Nursing in the 70s and 80s, she witnessed the ravaging effects of blood cancer on a daily basis, when survival rates were much lower than today. When doctors told her she needed a ‘mud’ bone marrow transplant (a transplant from an unrelated donor), she was convinced that was her death sentence.

Elaine said: “When the doctor said I needed a transplant I just looked at her and said, ‘Are you joking? You want me to sign my own death warrant?’ In my day, if you had a mud transplant you wouldn’t survive. Nobody did. If we sent patients to London, they came back home to die, if they were lucky. That’s the way I saw it because that’s all I knew.”

Elaine desperately struggled to understand how research had advanced blood cancer treatment and even when doctors assured her that that this wasn’t a death sentence, she couldn’t believe them.

In January 2014, Elaine went ahead with the procedure in St. James’ Hospital Dublin, convinced she would never see her home again. But six months later, after a gruelling battle, she did. And she admits now that her perception of blood cancer was wrong, and rooted in the past.

Elaine said: “Back then, blood cancer was a death sentence. Now, it’s different. I had to readjust my thinking and see that there is life after blood cancer. All of the research performed has got us to where we are today. But so much more needs to be done – it needs the funding and the support.”

Now, Elaine is preparing for daughter Jessica’s wedding in June, an event she thought she would not be around for. She can’t wait for what the future will hold but takes each day as it comes. 

Remission is possible for people like Elaine thanks to research done by scientists, like those funded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI right here in Belfast. They are working hard to develop new and more effective treatments, which mean that a diagnosis is not a death sentence anymore. Elaine is a survivor.

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


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