I’m still me, but I’ve changed for the betterMikyla
Mikyla’s new lease on life after shock cancer diagnosis at 21
Being the youngest patient on the ward was just one of the challenges facing Mikyla Winchcombe after a shock cancer diagnosis at 21 years old. Now Mikyla, who lives north of Hamilton, is enjoying a new lease on life after achieving remission against all the odds.
The diagnosis came completely out of the blue for Mikyla, now 23. It was November 2021. She had a scratchy throat and was feeling “off” so her mum suggested a routine blood test, particularly as Mikyla was headed overseas to visit partner Matt in the UK. No one could have predicted what unfolded next.
“I was fit and healthy and good to go. I had the blood test and the next morning the doctor rang and said I had to come in. In my heart I knew that something was not quite right. They told me it was cancer, and that it was in my bone marrow,” says Mikyla.
She had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. Two days later, Mikyla started chemotherapy in what would be a long stay at Waikato Hospital, as she was not allowed out during each round due to being severely immuno-compromised. She had four rounds of chemo each lasting three to five weeks, but the cancer was so aggressive she needed a stem cell transplant. Mikyla was allowed home to prepare, because she needed to be in the best shape possible for the transplant.
“Using the international bone marrow registry, they found me a donor in Germany. With 41 million people across the world registered, they found 30 potential matches, and the one they chose was the best, at a 99.9% match. And she said yes,” she explains.
Mikyla had one more round of chemo to completely wipe out her immune system, so her new immune system could grow and develop. She was not allowed to see friends or family, so she spent a lot of time on her own staring at the “four white walls” of the hospital ward. The transplant turned out to be a success, and in October 2022, she heard the word “remission” for the first time.
“I was so isolated, and away from my partner Matt, the person who means most to me, so it was really tough. I was monitored every second day and then I was allowed to gradually return to home and my normal life, but I was still very weak. 100 days after transplant, I had another bone marrow biopsy, and I had to wait two weeks for the results. It was the longest two weeks of my life. Then I got the good news.”
Mikyla says her journey through cancer has changed her and her “tight knit” family forever. Her mother even quit working to look after her full time while she was recovering. Mikyla says she is loving living life to the full and is more comfortable to make her own decisions. She is now engaged to partner Matt who she spent so much time away from, and she has plans to work and travel. As the recipient of many blood products, she’s also loving her new job at the New Zealand Blood Service.
Mikyla also says that the Cancer Society helped her to cope with being away from friends and family for so long. She received regular phone calls from the Cancer Society support nurses and stayed at Domain Lodge accommodation at no cost for two months post-transplant. Once she was back in Hamilton, support nurse Sharon would text and ring regularly, and Mikyla attended some local support groups. She was even referred to a massage therapist to deal with some side effects of treatment including intense back pain.
“The Cancer Society was a huge part of my journey. My family and I wouldn’t have been able to afford to stay so close to the hospital in Auckland for so long, so I’m really grateful. This year I set up my own team for Relay for Life just to raise some money and give back. It’s all about mental support and connecting with others. There are so many little things the Cancer Society does to help and support you that people don’t realise.”
Mikyla hopes her story will help and inspire other young people with cancer to keep going, because it’s important to raise awareness that it’s not just older people who get cancer. She’s a strong believer in knowing your own body, being your own advocate and getting unusual symptoms tested. And she’s loving her second chance at life.
“I’m still me, but I’ve changed for the better. I’m a lot more optimistic and I make the most of every opportunity. I want to do everything, and I don’t want to wait!”
Find out more or donate today, visit daffodilday.org.nz.