Michaela von Sturmer is quick to say how lucky she is.
But it was a different story a year ago when the teacher from Belmont Primary School on Auckland’s North Shore was diagnosed with a form of leukaemia.
That day she had a store stomach, and after going to the hospital’s accident and emergency department for a checkup, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
The news was a shock – von Sturmer stopped working straight away.
“Literally, the day I was diagnosed, that was it. I couldn’t even go back into the classroom – it was tough on the kids.”
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While von Sturmer’s work supported her, she had only limited sick leave. So some of her fellow teachers set up a Givealittle page, to allow her to rest and recover without having to worry too much about finances.
The page quickly raised more than $22,000, which von Sturmer said she was hugely grateful for because it helped her family continue living a “normal life” without too much stress.
The influx of message of support from her students and their families – many saying she is their favourite teachers – was another major bonus of the Givealittle page, said von Sturmer.
“You don’t normally get to read that sort of stuff until you’re gone.”
“The medicine, the support and the love; I think all those things can really help people heal.”
The messages made her realise how much teaching is a privilege.
“You do reassess your life when these things happen. The privilege of teaching is being able to touch someone else’s life in the way that teaching does.”
As well as the support from her “school family”, von Sturmer said she had plenty of support from her own family and friends.
Her husband worked from home to take care of her, her parents cooked and cleaned, and her sons, who are in their 20s, also helped out.
But von Sturmer said she was also incredibly lucky as she was able to find a donor match for her tissue type – a man from Australia.
She had a stem cell transplant on October 6, 2016.
All of her treatment, including the search on the worldwide register for a donor match, was free of charge through the New Zealand health system.
“Many times throughout, we’ve counted our blessings for being in the country that we’re in,” she said.
Von Sturmer will continue to need maintenance chemotherapy and won’t be deemed to be in remission until two years after her transplant.
So far, the signs are good – she hoped to be well enough, and not too tired, to return to teaching a few days a week in term three this year.