Cancer survival story told in charity’s book

Stephen Pennells' life-affirming image of Katy Burnett from Southwick
Stephen Pennells' life-affirming image of Katy Burnett from Southwick

DANCE helped a Southwick woman battle through a life-threatening illness.

Her story of survival is being told in a new photography book and exhibition to mark Blood Cancer Awareness Month.

Katy Burnett, 21, of Cross Road, was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia in 1998 and had a transplant when she was six. But the leukaemia returned and Katy was living with the complications of transplant until she turned 18, when she was given the all-clear.

Three years later, she has just graduated from Kent University with first class honours in forensic science.

Her story is told by blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan in its book, After, and in an exhibition by the same name at the Menier Gallery in London until Saturday.

The collection is a series of 18 celebratory and life-affirming images by photographer Stephen Pennells that show life after blood cancer.

Katy said it was dance that got her through, helping her to express her feelings.

She started dancing at A2 Arts Performing Arts Academy in Hove when she was three and was still there when she was cured at 18.

“The people there, besides my family, are the only ones who saw me before I had it, during my treatment, and after I had it.

“No matter what, even when I couldn’t go to school, I always tried to go to dancing – it was the only thing I consistently kept up while I was going through treatment,” she explained.

“It really helped with my recovery in terms of the exercise and the stretching, but also the emotional release that dancing allowed me to express.”

She even choreographed a piece about her leukaemia, ‘showing how even though it closes in around you, you can push it away’.

“I have shown it to a lot of people and it’s even brought some to tears,” said Katy. “It was very well-received and it is so important to me.”

She received her bone marrow transplant on April 30, 1999, a year after the diagnosis, having been told it was the only thing that could save her life.

Katy said: “It was successful at the time, but unfortunately I relapsed a year later and complications arose, like Graft versus Host Disease (GvHD). I finally got the all-clear after 13 years of leukaemia, the week I turned 18. I’m now three years post cure date.”

She now plans to work within the charity sector to support others suffering with cancer.