From strength to strength: Christina’s story
Less than three years ago, 28-year-old Christina Kaepplinger was confined to a wheelchair. Barely able to speak or eat, she spent two weeks in intensive care being fed through a tube and the better part of ten months in a hospital bed. She said, “I remember the first question I asked the doctor was: Why me? How did this happen?” The answer was that she simply had bad luck.
It was December 2014 and Christina was busy training for a triathlon. Despite exercising regularly she found herself feeling weaker and weaker by the day. In a smart decision that might have saved her life, she decided to see her GP for a routine blood test. The GP called her back the same night and advised her to go to Emergency, where after a few more tests she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia – or blood cancer.
To have a chance at surviving, Christina was thrust into her two-year chemotherapy treatment the same week. “I started off with a very strong dose of chemo: a mixture of tablets and injections through a port in my arm or directly into the spine,” she said.
She was in remission after two months, though her chances of relapsing were high. She spent most of the first ten months in hospital, in a lot of pain. One of the drugs had interfered with her brain, affecting her ability to speak and think clearly.
It was a slow process, but Christina eventually became strong enough to go home. When she was allowed to go home she was down to 40 kilograms and had lost all her hair. She remembered the shock when she saw herself in the mirror for the first time.
Christina had always been fit and active. Having lived in Australia independently for six years, she now found herself reliant on her family, who had flown over from Germany. “My parents and brothers had come from Germany by then to support me and I remember them pushing me around in a wheelchair and helping me go for ‘walks’ from the bedroom to the bathroom,” she said.
Christina’s assisted “walks” to the bathroom are a world away from her routine today. She and three friends walked 100 kilometres of Sydney’s bushland in late August, after training for months. The walk was a part of the Oxfam Trailwalker event, where teams of four walk 100 kilometres in 48 hours or less, or 50 kilometres in 24 hours or less, to raise funds for Oxfam’s work tackling global poverty.
Christina and her team “OxDAMN This Is Hard” were all first time Oxfam walkers and had been training hard, hiking and walking for hours on trails around Sydney. “When we hike, I like to think back to the time when I wasn’t able to walk at all and climbing up those rocky hills feels a lot easier,” Christina said.
Each Oxfam Trailwalker team must raise a minimum of $1,400 to take part in the event. Christina’s team quickly surpassed $5,000 in fundraising and now have their sights set on reaching $10,000.
“We were surprised by how much we were able to fundraise. Family, friends and our employers have been super supportive and we can’t thank them enough,” she said.
Christina finished her chemotherapy in February and has been off medication now for six months. She credits sport and staying active with being invaluable for her mental strength to overcome cancer. “It is amazing what your body is capable of when you put your mind to it and even though I was frustrated in how slowly my body recovered I am amazed with how far I have come in the last two years,” she said.
Christina says she lives her life the same way now as she did before her diagnosis.
“The only thing that has changed for me is that everything I do, I do consciously. Even though one of the toughest, last year has been by far the happiest of my life because I know now how it feels to be completely restricted and not being able to do what you love to do. I am grateful that even though I had to go through a very hard time, I get the chance to live life consciously now.”
Christina and OxDAMN This Is Hard walked 100 kilometres for Oxfam Trailwalker on August 25-27, from Parsley Bay to Tania Park. Oxfam Trailwalker raises millions of dollars each year for Oxfam’s lifesaving work.
Please consider making an online donation to Christina’s team to help them reach their $10,000 fundraising goal. Fundraising portals will remain open until mid-September.