Myeloma cancer care: Spreading awareness one stitch at a time

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As national Myeloma Awareness Week draws to a close, a Leamington fundraiser is hoping her efforts have made a big difference as they spread across the UK. Hannah Smith met Sandy Hunter and see her charity work in action.

Setting out a fundraising stall with hundreds of bright orange knitted dinosaurs, Sandy Hunter says she never expected her cancer diagnosis to take her on such a journey.

Two years after learning she had a bone marrow cancer called myeloma, Sandy is working to raise funds and awareness - as well as being on the way to setting up her own support group.

But most unusually, her creation of Mikey the Myelomasaurus is sweeping the UK and fast becoming the unofficial mascot for a charity close to her heart.

The 60-year-old sports therapist said she came up with the idea after picking an old favourite pattern, adding some alterations and turning him orange - the eye-catching colour of Myeloma UK.

She now has teams of volunteers across the UK clicking their knitting needles to do their bit and more getting in touch to ask how they can help.

I’ve only been doing this for a few months but have been quite overwhelmed by the amount of people asking for the pattern, or who compliment me on them

Sandy Hunter

“I started with one Mikey and now I have hundreds,” she says. “He’s gone national. I sent the charity a pattern and it’s being shared everywhere.

“Even people who cannot knit have been asking if they can sew some, or are donating bright orange wool.

“I’ve only been doing this for a few months but have been quite overwhelmed by the amount of people asking for the pattern, or who compliment me on the dolls.”

The mission, says Sandy, has just one aim - to get more people talking about the bone marrow cancer which affecting the immune systems of thousands of people across the UK every year.

The disease affects white blood cells and if caught early, it can be well treated.

While there is no cure for the disease, early diagnosis and treatment are key to keeping patients alive for years.

But as the condition can be almost symptomless, more needs to be done to get people talking and taking action on possible infection.

Sandy, who lives in Leamington and was diagnosed through a persistent cough, said: “Mikey has really taken off and I hope it means we get more people talking about myeloma, or at least knowing what it is.

“It was an accident that I was diagnosed. I had a sore throat for six weeks, it just wouldn’t go away. It was tests for that which showed I had myeloma.

“It disables the immune system so there is no way to know how long I have had it, really I was very lucky.

“I just want to raise awareness as this can go undetected for so long. It isn’t about scaring people, just making them aware of this illness.”

Since so little is known about its effects and impact, Sandy says she is keen to get a support group up and running in Leamington and Warwick so others do not feel alone.

Since her own diagnosis, she has been working with Myeloma UK to set up the group, which could help change hundreds of lives.

Myeloma UK community fundraiser Zoe Meldrum-Craig said they were delighted to be working together as more people take on the dinosaur theme.

She says: “A huge thanks goes out to Sandy for her support during Myeloma Awareness Week. Holding a stall in Leamington was a great way to raise awareness of myeloma in the community, and we hope that everyone loved Mikey the Myelomasaurus as much as we do in the office.”

Myeloma UK: The Facts

Myeloma, also known as multiple myeloma is a cancer caused by abnormal bone marrow cells.

There is currently no cure but many effective treatments and patients can live with the condition for years.

The disease affects 17,500 people in the UK but delays in diagnosing the cancer mean one in five sufferers die within 60 days of diagnosis.

The survival rate is now double the rate it was in the 1970s with around 17 per cent of patients living for a decade or more after first being diagnosed with the illness.

The most common symptoms include bone pain, recurring infection, kidney damage and fatigue - but not everyone will experience all or any of these.

Unlike many cancers, myeloma does not exist as a lump or tumour. Most related problems are caused by a build-up of the abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow and presence of the paraprotein in the blood.

Myeloma UK is the only charity dealing with the condition and working towards a cure thanks to public donations. Visit www.myeloma.org.uk to find out more.