"Fortunately, a small child doesn’t remember"
23-year-old Essi Mustaniemi will celebrate a twentieth anniversary next year. By then, she will have been in good health for two decades. No serious after-effects remain from the leukaemia she had as a child, and this young woman on the verge of adulthood is embarking on a career in healthcare services.
I have some fragmented memories of being ill but – fortunately – a small child is unaware of what is going on. I lived in a child's world and had all sorts of props and costumes with me in hospital. Despite being ill, I was a very active child, says Essi, almost 20 years later in a riverside cafe in Turku.
Essi will soon qualify as a dental hygienist and already has a permanent position in her home town of Pori. The only reminder of the cancer she once had is the follow-up appointments arranged through student health care.
"The radiation treatments left me with an underactive thyroid gland, but my health will continue to be monitored more closely than normal anyway. However, everything's been going well for such a long time that I'm no longer nervous about the appointments, which are just business as usual," Essi says.
An unknown lifesaver
Essi had just turned one year old when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Strong cytotoxic therapy was begun immediately and for a long time afterward it seemed as though the disease had been beaten. However, blood tests taken when the girl was four years old showed that the disease had returned. It was clear right away that her only chance of full recovery lay in a stem cell transplant from a sibling or an unknown donor.
The tissue of Essi's older brother was not a match with Essi's, so a donor was sought from the global stem cell register. A few suitable candidates were found; the cells harvested from one of them have taken Essi through her childhood and teenage years into adulthood.
"I know nothing about the origins of the donor, not even his or her gender. In a way, it would be nice to find out. I've sometimes wondered what kind of person he or she was. The donor was chosen by a doctor, who also played a crucial role and whom I have met," Essi says.
Although the stem cell transplant worked well in Essi's case, other problems lay ahead. Malignant lumps began to appear on Essi's neck after she was discharged from hospital. She still needed radiation therapy for these and a difficult operation, working close to the jugular vein, was needed in order to remove the last scar tissue.
"I have not missed out on anything"
Fortunately, the operation was a success and Essi has been healthy since then.
Essi wishes the greatest of strength for those parents who have children with cancer, since they, in particular, need it.
"I have some memories from that time, but I've heard about most of it since then. I don't feel that I've missed out on anything in comparison to what would have happened if I'd fallen ill during my school days or as a student. If it's any consolation to the parents, getting sick is probably not as tough on the child as on the parents, who follow what's going on from close up and understandably fret about their child's survival.
For Essi, it felt natural to opt for the healthcare sector when choosing a profession.
"Yes, this was based on receiving so much good healthcare that I wanted to give something back.
Essi will soon leave the city of her student days, Turku, behind to head with a removal van to Pori, where a job in her own profession awaits. There, her recently acquired first home, family and dog are also waiting.
"On this basis, my future plans will begin to click nicely into place," says a thankful Essi.