A GRIEVING father yesterday paid tribute to his “inspirational” daughter, who died after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer triggered by the treatment she had received for another, less aggressive form of the disease.
Stari Gunarathne, a 26-year-old Scottish medical student, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2010. She received six months of chemotherapy before being given the all-clear.
A year ago Ms Gunarathne, from Aberdeen, was devastated to learn that she was suffering from acute myeloid leukaemia, a rare form of cancer, and that it had most likely been triggered by the drugs used to fight her original illness. Ms Gunarathne, a committed Christian, then began to write a blog – Finding the Anchor in the Storm – that chronicled her struggle with her fatal illness.
In her first entry, dated 27 January last year, Ms Gunarathne wrote: “I have to stay in hospital for about five weeks at a time getting intensive chemo to cure the cancer that was caused by the chemo – go figure.”
Her final entry was posted on 16 December, two days before she died at St James Hospital in Leeds. The blog stated: “I told the doctors I have got to the point where I will just allow things to happen as [opposed] to questioning them at every turn. I have literally handed over my life into the hands of someone else.
“Maybe this change of perspective has been accompanied [by] the knowledge and acceptance that long-term plans don’t really matter anymore.”
The funeral service for Ms Gunarathne was held at Aberdeen Crematorium last Friday. Yesterday, her father Gunti Gunarathne, a reader in electronics and instrumentation at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, spoke of his “remarkable” daughter. He said: “Stari had seen the suffering and emotions of people with cancer and she desperately wanted to help others in that situation, showing the way that she coped with her illness with the faith that she had.”
Mr Gunarathne said his daughter, who had been studying medicine at Leeds University, had posted regularly on her blog from her hospital bed.
“It was her hope that, by writing her blog, she would help others. She had the kind of peace that is indescribable. Even on the worst of days she was smiling and talking.”
Mr Gunarathne explained that Hodgkin’s lymphoma was a “simple and easily treatable” form of cancer. Once his daughter had been diagnosed she was treated as an outpatient and “completely cured”.
He continued: “But after three years she became very tired and thought there was something not right. That was when doctors told her she had a rare form of cancer and it had been caused by one of her chemotherapy drugs. Doctors can’t even put a number to those where this reaction happens. It was very, very rare but not unknown.”
Helen Thompson, senior cancer information nurse at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s been known for some time that cancer treatments can increase a patient’s risk of developing a second primary cancer some years later. But this is rare and most cancer patients are never diagnosed with another primary cancer.
“Cancer specialists should explain the benefits and risks of any potentially life-saving treatment to their patients. In most cases the benefits outweigh the risks.”