Kitty is 20 and has just completed her A Levels, having had to take time out of education while receiving years of treatment and a lifesaving stem cell transplant to combat her extremely rare Leukaemia.
Lawrie in our Community Fundraising Team met up with Kitty and her Mum Kate at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017. Kitty had the honour of being personally invited by Raymond Evison, a world-renowned breeder of clematis in Guernsey, who was awarded his 29th RHS Gold Medal and New Design Award this year.
Raymond Evison Clematis was launching a brand new cultivar, named ‘Clematis Kitty’, after this inspirational young woman who has battled Acute Promyelocytic Leukaemia (APML) for nearly six years.
It was a special moment for Kitty to meet her blooming namesake, knowing that her clematis will delight and be bought by gardeners around the world, while supporting the work of Anthony Nolan, in her honour. Raymond Evison Clematis is donating a percentage of the sales of ‘Clematis Kitty’ to Anthony Nolan, to help save the lives of people with blood cancer.
Kitty & Kate were kind to share some of their experiences.
I was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukaemia in August 2011 – it was a week before my 15th birthday. I had been ill on and off all summer with nausea, lethargy and being unable to eat. I woke up one day with pins and needles going up and down my arm. By the next day the whole of my arm was numb, had lost colour and my fingers were clenched in. I was admitted to hospital that night.
The following morning, it was as if someone had flicked a switch, I felt the left side of my face drop, I couldn’t speak properly and my arm was hanging limp and lifeless. I was ambulanced to a specialist Children’s Oncology Unit. That night my left leg gave way, too.
The first few months
It was a very tough time, as at diagnosis Leukaemia cells clotted on Kitty’s brain and caused a Stroke down her whole left side.
Kitty doesn’t remember much after that; she succumbed to the fact that she was terribly ill. She slept a lot, facing months in hospital for intensive chemotherapy and further complications, plus physiotherapy twice a day for the Stroke – which was no mean task for any teenager, when she felt absolutely grotty, had partial movement, a Mum caring for her ‘every’ need, plus her hair and eyelashes were falling out. She just wanted to be with her friends, to actually be at school (no joke!), not to be isolated in hospital or watching everyone on social media.
From somewhere deep inside, she fought. She actually had no choice – she faced treatment, relentless bloods in and out, every scan possible, 3 monthly bone marrow aspirates, wheelchairs, lots of sleep and neutropenic weeks. The NHS enveloped her with their brilliant nursing care and led the family through. It was character-building and life-changing stuff that has made Kitty a stronger person now.
Kitty’s Leukaemia returns
I finished my treatment in December 2013, but was called back after a routine bone marrow check in February saying the Leukaemia had come back.
Now aged 17, Kitty was transferred to a specialist teenage unit. After a couple of months of further intensive chemotherapy, her Consultant said that Kitty’s only chance of survival was a bone marrow transplant.
It wasn’t the words I wanted to hear on my birthday!
The creation of ‘Clematis Kitty’
At this vulnerable time in 2014, Raymond Evison heard Kitty urgently needed a Bone Marrow Transplant; he was developing a new cultivar and asked to name it after her. ‘Clematis Kitty’ was born. It was a secret, as production to launch takes a few years.
Kitty was in hospital when she received this incredible news – it was fabulous and uplifting. Raymond Evison Clematis also asked Kitty to name a charity for future donations. For this 17-year-old heading for a lifesaving Bone Marrow Transplant, there was only one choice – Anthony Nolan.
They had already tested Kitty’s two siblings, who unfortunately were not a match, so an anonymous donor was the only option.
When we heard there was a match it was a very powerful thing, I can’t put that heartfelt emotion into words.
It was a difficult time, as Kitty became incredibly frail from the treatment, we put our complete trust in the Consultants and specialist transplant nurses; because we knew how things would be without her donor.
That moment when they bring the donor cells in to the isolation chamber in the Anthony Nolan box was emotionally raw, I felt like time was frozen, because I knew how poignant that chance of life is.
It’s incredibly amazing what one human being can do to save another, especially when they don’t know each other. I think everyone who can, should join the Anthony Nolan donor register.
The guy who’s donated his cells to me has literally given me a second chance at life. I have to make the most of life now and take every opportunity. That always motivates me, as I know how lucky I am. I’m so grateful for Anthony Nolan for finding my donor.
I don’t think we can ever put the enormity of the donor’s action into words, there are never going to be enough words. Kitty’s donor has kept our family together and complete.
Raymond Evison Clematis grew some uplifting magic for Kitty. Anthony Nolan and her unknown donor gave her a future. Thank you all.
Please continue to support the work of Anthony Nolan by buying ‘Clematis Kitty’ for yourself or a loved one – it means the world to Kitty.