For the last decade Ronniet Orlando has felt “like a butterfly that’s come out of its cocoon” – and finding out she had chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) four years ago hasn’t changed that feeling.
“Leukaemia is only a part of my health and it’s not what defines me,” explained Ronniet, 57 of Perth, who juggles a busy lifestyle as a musician, violin teacher and PhD student. “I just don’t see it (CLL) as an encumbrance. I’ve always been a doer and I just get on with things.”
That’s not to say, however, that having blood cancer hasn’t dramatically affected her life.
“I just freaked out,” said Ronniet about her diagnosis in August 2008. “But of course that is the typical reaction. “I come from a family of longevity. To me it was inconceivable that I was not going to live for a long, long time. I felt I had decades and decades of time, so the diagnosis of leukaemia was a real wake-up call.”
Blood cancer showed up during follow-up blood tests when Ronniet had a chest infection that took a while to clear up. On reflection, she says tiredness was another symptom. “But I was always tired. I had Ross River Fever in the 1990s and to me being tired was part of life. I always do too much,” said Ronniet, who has made some changes. “I’ve made lots of decisions to get stress out of my life including ending a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere, and I’ve reassessed my general health.”
She started exercising more, became more mindful about what she eats and began meditating regularly.
Mediation practice overcomes the stresses of leukaemia
“I learnt Transcendental Meditation when I was 21 and had done it on and off. Now I meditate daily – it gets rid of stress and is really balancing for me. I don’t feel stressed anymore and I’ve got a very busy life. I deal with things as they come up.”
“I’ve learnt to accept my new image of myself, accept that I am not superhuman and that it’s likely leukaemia will shorten my life at some stage. I’m living life to the fullest without being stupid about it, and instead of putting things off, I do it now. Generally speaking, I’m just getting on with my life and I’m flourishing.”
Today her research is on musical intervention in cancer, specifically looking at music in palliative care, comparing the effects of recorded music to live music.
“Music has kept me sane all my life and it keeps me healthy now. It’s such good therapy,” says Ronniet. She loves to sing loudly while driving and a favourite tune, which she sings at the top of her voice in the car, is I Will Survive, from a compilation CD given to her by one of her sons.
This is an excerpt from a longer article “Music is therapy for Ronniet” published in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia News in December 2012.
CLL News is a publication of the Leukaemia Foundation – the only not-for-profit organization in Australia dedicated to the care and cure of patients and families living with leukaemias, lymphomas, myeloma and related blood disorders.
Feature image: www.freedigitalphotos.com