Christmas always brings mixed emotions for Kath Rhodes.
Having been given only six months to live nearly two decades ago following a shock diagnosis of leukaemia, the festive season is a reminder that she has defied the medics’ initial outlook for another year.
But, equally, each December 25 revives memories of a difficult time for Kath, aged 53, a former children’s nursery head. Just three days before Christmas 18 years ago, after undergoing a blood test while pregnant with her first child - a baby daughter - she was told she had chronic myeloid leukaemia, having displayed few obvious symptoms.
The news came just weeks after Kath’s own mother, Florence Gray, died aged 68 of a sudden stroke, and her diagnosis and subsequent treatment meant she lost her little girl, and the chance to become a mother ever again.
However, a bone marrow transplant from her older sister, Patricia, extensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and daily doses of a trial drug, have offered her extra time with her husband Kevin, aged 58 - and she is determined to ‘live life to the full’.
In 2018 - the 20th anniversary of her diagnosis - she plans to travel to Lapland for a 200km sledging trip with huskies across the frozen landscape, and has already collected more than £1,000 in sponsorship money towards a target of £3,000, which will be donated to the Sheffield charity Cavendish Cancer Care.
The Sheffield Telegraph is supporting a campaign to collect £193,000 to help Cavendish move to a new centre in Broomhall. The good cause, which offers counselling and complementary therapies for patients, their families and carers, offered a lifeline, she said.
“It has helped me so much,” said Kath, from Charnock. “It was a relief to speak to someone who understood the shock I felt.”
Wanting to be in control of losing her hair, Kath decided to have it shaved off in return for donations, and sent the money to Cavendish, where she became a volunteer.
“I just wanted to feel like I was giving something back,” she added.
After the transplant, Kath’s leukaemia returned, but the condition is kept under control with medication. The powerful treatments have triggered skin cancer, and she suffers other side effects, including joint pain and weakness. But she said: “I live life to the full, looking forward and not back. Kevin has been by my side all the way.”
The couple also enjoy spending time with their cockapoo puppy, Milo, named as part of another fundraiser for Cavendish.
“I do feel the husky trail would be a challenge for anybody - but I’ve had harder challenges than this, and I’ve survived those.”
This weekend will be spent with those closest to her.
“Christmas has changed for me but the actual message need not disappear.
“It doesn’t matter if there aren’t expensive presents under the tree. If you have shelter over your head and food on the table you should be quite happy to have nice, quality time with family and friends.”
n Visit www.justgiving.com/kathgonewild to donate.