Teacher battles illness for adventure

LYING in a hospital bed fearing she had blood cancer, Rachael Pryce could see her dream of taking part in a round-the-world yacht race slipping rapidly out of reach.

LYING in a hospital bed fearing she had blood cancer, Rachael Pryce could see her dream of taking part in a round-the-world yacht race slipping rapidly out of reach.

But now just a year after being diagnosed with a rare and untreatable condition which mimics the symptoms of cancer, she is throwing herself into last minute training before quitting her job to sail off on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Rachael, who teaches at the Benjamin Britten High School in Lowestoft, will be flying to Jamaica in three weeks time (May 19) to join the team sailing in the seventh leg of the Clipper Round the World race.

After signing up in January last year, her grand plans were knocked for six when she was rushed into hospital.

'I went to see my doctor… My throat was swollen, I was bruised and I had a huge swelling on my neck. I had blood tests done on a Monday and when I went back for the results on the Tuesday afternoon, I wasn't allowed to leave the surgery.

'The on-call doctor took one look at me and said I was toxic. I had lost a stone in four weeks because my body wasn't functioning in a normal way,' she said.

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Rachael was taken to the James Paget University Hospital Gorleston, and spent weeks having blood tests and scans as doctors tried to find out what was making her so ill.

'I was devastated. I was stuck in a hospital bed being told I probably had blood cancer and thought I would have to stop doing everything. I kept all the information about the Clipper race by my bed and told all the doctors and nurses I was going to take part in it - I think they thought I was crazy.

'The race became my focus and spurred me on. In June last year I was in surgery, but just four weeks later I travelled to the south coast for a four-week intensive sailing training course, and I did everything possible to make sure that I was well enough to do that.'

After biopsies on lumps which were growing on both sides of her neck, she was eventually diagnosed in June last year with a rare condition called necrotising lymphodentitis.

The disease, which is thought to affect about 25 people in the world every year, mimics all the symptoms of blood cancer, except that the swellings on the lymph nodes are not cancerous.

There is no treatment and Rachael's well-being depends on her knowing her own limits and not getting too run-down. However to prepare herself both physically and mentally for the race, she is training every other day at the Bungay Pool and Gym and recently completed a 5km swimathon for Marie Curie.

'This time last year I was a physical mess, but now I'm so far away from that, it's unbelievable,' she said. 'Falling so ill was a real kick up the backside and now I'm absolutely determined to get as much as I can out of life.'

Rachael's leg of the Clipper race is due to leave Jamaica on May 24 to sail to New York, where she is due to arrive on June 2. Follow her progress on the Spirit of Australia, visit www.clipperroundtheworld.com

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