My wife Sylvia

June 18, 2017
Personal Stories

by Philip Hartog

My wife, Sylvia Hartog, was diagnosed with myelofibrosis in April 2010 at 49 years of age. Myelofibrosis is a disorder of the bone marrow in which the bone marrow is replaced by fibrous scar tissue, impairing its ability to produce normal blood cells. In practical terms, gradually the ‘bad’ cells replace all the good bone marrow cells leading to a severe (and ultimately) fatal shortage of red blood cells.

Sylvia had been feeling a bit lethargic for a while and following blood tests it was confirmed that ‘there was something seriously wrong’.

From memory, there are about 75 new cases of myelofibrosis annually diagnosed in Australia (The number of new cases per year are 0.41 cases per 100,000 in the general population). In senior patients it is often a more slowly advancing disease while in those under sixty it can be a rapidly debilitating disease.

Naturally Sylvia’s diagnosis was a great shock to us all. We have three girls who are now 17, 19 and 21 but as committed Christians, it was and is a great blessing to know that God is with us, both in good and bad times.

Sylvia was a medical doctor who studied at UNSW and, in our pre-children days, was a comfort to many in Zaire (ex Belgian Congo) where she ended up being in charge of the only clinic operating to Western standards around 1989 to 1991.

As a doctor, Sylvia always had complete confidence in the high standards of care in Australia and she believed that the medical knowledge in this field was the highest in the world, or very close to that. We decided we were very comfortable putting her medical fate in the hands of doctors and nurses of St Vincent’s Public Hospital, Sydney, although her treatment had started at the Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH).

Dr. Keith Fay and the Haematalogy /Oncology team recommended that Sylvia go ahead with a bone marrow transplant (BMT) as it provides the only hope for a total cure. She had her first BMT in September 2010, which included full-body radiation and aggressive chemotherapy. Many readers know that this treatment is far from ‘a walk in the park’ and you usually go through a pretty ‘deep valley’ before you can start recovering slowly.

Receiving this treatment had provided the great benefit of giving Sylvia some extra years. Years we enjoyed together as a family, managing a memorable trip to the Great Barrier Reef and although Sylvia was definitely not up to swimming, we enjoyed all being together.

Unfortunately, the first transplant ultimately was unsuccessful and around October 2012, when Sylvia was becoming more feeble as her health was deteriorating, a decision was reached that we would try for another transplant from a different donor. For the technically minded, Sylvia did not get enough of a graft versus host disease (GVHD) reaction against the first transplant.

Sylvia was a courageous patient who always kept her good humour and she made many friends amongst staff and patients alike. She was happy to be given this last chance of a recovery and, being aware of the odds that she would not survive, decided she would “rather go out with a blast, than slowly be withering away.”

Sadly, her body could not manage to pull through after another round of chemotherapy and she died in hospital early this year in the comfort of an unfaltering trust in God and Heaven.

We have been so grateful for the fantastic care of all staff at both St. Vincent’s Public Hospital and HOAC (previously at the hospital but now at The Kinghorn Cancer Centre). Staff at all levels have been so caring and capable, handling all situations with sensitivity and compassion.

I want to especially mention the nurses as it makes an enormous difference to the patient and family that they do their jobs in such a confident and cheerful manner!

Knowing the great work that Arrow does, I know Sylvia would be pleased to know that I’m intending to be a long-term supporter of some of the activities that Arrow gets involved in.

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