Emma Paine is a fitness instructor for Vivacity, teaching a range of fitness classes including Aerobics, step, Body Pump. She has just gained Personal Trainer certification and is studying as a yoga instructor. She has also been fighting Aplastic Anaemia for twelve years, and Myelodysplastic syndrome (a form of blood cancer) for six. In that time she has had two bone marrow transplants, numerous rounds of chemotherapy, endless transfusions and repeated infections – but has never given up. The Moment talks to her about the fight, and how keeping fit has kept her going
What did that initial diagnosis of Aplastic Anaemia mean to you?
As a seventeen year old I don’t think it meant very much. I don’t think I realised how serious it was. But I literally went from having nothing wrong with me to having to go to hospital every other day. I’d just been getting into fitness at the time, and would get on the treadmill and do 5k, but gradually noticed it seemed to be getting harder, and I wasn’t getting any faster.
What is Aplastic Anaemia?
In layman’s terms, it’s bone marrow failure. That meant I had very low white blood cells, so was at very high risk of infection, low platelets, which are the part that clot your blood, so there’s a high risk of haemorrhage and low red blood cells (severe anaemia). I had regular blood transfusions and platelet transfusions. Due to my low immune system I wasn’t allowed to leave the house much, or go to school. So, it was a bit of a turnaround! Finally, they got me back to a state of health where I could lead a more normal life. There were still some infections that had me hospitalised, but I was able to go to university like everyone else. That’s where I got more into going to the gym.
In 2011 you relapsed and were diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndrome. What impact did that have?
I’d just started a new job in London which I was really enjoying – a new chapter in my life – and it was all quite exciting. Then I was told I needed a bone marrow transplant. It was hard to take that on board, knowing that I’d have to pack up the career I’d just started, leave the house I’d just moved into, just when I had found my feet and was making plans…
Does it make you stronger, coming through something like that?
That time I came back quite strong – stupidly strong! I was back at work within six months of the transplant. I was quite pig-headed… So, yes, it did make me stronger and more determined, but I was also ignoring my own health a little bit. The next time I relapsed it was a bit more serious, and it hit home a little bit more. But I still came back trained as a Body Pump instructor and ran the London Marathon. After my second bone marrow transplant in 2016, I’ve been very different about it, and rather than aiming to get back to work within a time limit told myself: ‘I’ll go back to work when I’m ready…’ So, you do get wiser and a bit more accepting. Also, I’ve come to realise that getting my body physically strong, and getting mentally strong again, is more important than going back to work.
Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for cancer sufferers, but has it been personally important for you, too?
Yes, it’s been so impactful for me. I’m able to cope with being anaemic better, able to cope with infections better. But also I’ve needed it for my mental health. Some people, when they get a cancer diagnosis, just stop. Even though they were carrying on life normally the day before, they feel they can’t do anything anymore. But there are other ways of facing it that don’t involve simply giving up. For me, it’s important to keep that positive attitude, and also to keep the body active. One thing I did when I was in hospital having chemotherapy was to go for a walk every day. Some days I’d walk 10k. There were a few days when the chemo got to me and I couldn’t do much more than lay in my bed, but on other days I made sure I did something. Sometimes I push myself a little bit too far- but you can only know what you’re capable of by testing your own limits.
What are you looking forward to in the coming year?
One of my main aims is to use my PT qualifications and my experiences to help other people who are going through what I have gone through, dealing with cancer patients as a trainer or in classes. I know how much these things can help get them through their treatment and recover from treatment. And beyond that, just focusing on what I want to do rather than what I think I ought to do – taking a step back and enjoying things, like my classes. I did a lovely Aerobics class last night. It was really good fun – I love doing it. More of that!
You can read more about Emma’s story at emmafightsmds.wordpress.com