Not long after celebrating her 35th birthday, Charmaine Aldridge felt a pain in her stomach.
Nothing too serious, nothing too urgent, a pang just concerning enough for the Albury woman to check in with a GP later in the week and get a blood test.
"That evening I had a call from the pathologist who said you need to go to Albury Base now," Miss Aldridge said.
"They couldn't give me any information, just that the hospital was expecting me and I needed to be there straight away."
When Miss Aldridge arrived at hospital, she was scared but expected to be home within a day or two.
She'd only packed a small overnight bag.
She wasn't prepared for the diagnosis that came next - leukaemia - or how it would change her life.
I thought 'they've got it wrong'...I wasn't feeling well but I had no idea I was that sick.Charmaine Aldridge
She wasn't prepared for how hard it is to be sick; for the chemotherapy, the radiation, the fatigue and nausea, the bone marrow biopsies and eventually a transplant.
And she wasn't prepared for the next 13 months in and out of hospital in an unknown city.
"I thought 'they've got it wrong'," the now-38 year old said.
"I wasn't feeling well but I had no idea I was that sick.
"It was completely overwhelming, completely unexpected and unknown as to what was going to happen and what the outcome would be..."
Earlier that day, Miss Aldridge had been planning a trip to Vietnam with friends. But everything had changed.
Breaking the news to friends and family was tough. No one could believe it.
"I'd just transferred money to my friend that morning." she said.
"I had to text her from the hospital bed saying 'Sorry, not the best way to tell you but please don't book my holiday'."
By the end of the four-hour ambulance ride to the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Miss Aldridge knew it was serious.
When the Melbourne doctors confirmed what their Albury colleagues had diagnosed, she finally believed it. She had acute myeloid leukaemia, a form of blood cancer characterised by an overproduction of white blood cells known as leukaemic blasts.
Miss Aldridge was told she'd been in Melbourne for at least four months.
But 12 weeks stretched into 24, 24 into 52.
All up, Miss Aldridge and her mother had to relocate to Melbourne for 13 months.
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During that time, she underwent three rounds of chemotherapy, full-body radiation therapy and eventually a bone marrow transplant.
It was rough, but "after a few rounds you get used to it."
Even when she was well enough to have a day out of the hospital, the independent 35-year-old still needed help with basic tasks. Some days showering herself was too much.
Chemotherapy exhausted her body and diminished her immunity.
The Leukaemia Foundation found her mother a place to stay in Melbourne free of charge, a place Miss Aldridge could visit on the rare days she was able to be released, and helped transporting her to hospital.
Later the pair were moved into the Foundation's purpose-built accommodation across the road from the hospital.
The organisation's support made a tough situation easier, Miss Aldridge said.
"We don't have any family or anyone in Melbourne," she said. "One minute we're in Albury, the next in Melbourne and we had no idea where we were.
"Being a regional family, without the facilities they provided it would have been really difficult for my family, and very difficult for them to stay with me all the time.
"It took the financial and emotional stress out of it, so when they said you can have a couple of days out of hospital, I had somewhere to go I didn't have to worry 'where am I going to stay?'"
Two years have passed since Miss Aldridge was discharged and allowed to return to Albury, but she hasn't forgotten what the Leukaemia Foundation did for her and her family during a dark time.
On Friday night, Miss Aldridge is hosting a Light the Night fundraiser to give back to the Foundation.
"There's a lot of need for services like theirs but... services come at a cost," Miss Aldridge said.
During the event, people affected by blood cancer, supporters and those who have lost someone to the disease 'come together and transform the darkness into a sea of glowing light to give hope to all those impacted by blood cancer'.
She said the night was also a chance for people to unite and support each other.
Lanterns will be sold with funds going towards the Leukaemia Foundation.
Ms Aldridge said the Foundation also funded vital research into the the cancer and related illnesses.
"Last year they funded research into graft-versus-host disease," she said.
"It's something that the majority of people get following a bone marrow transplant, where the host cells start attacking the cells of the donor marrow.
"Luckily I didn't have it too severely, but it can be extremely debilitating and can cause death."
The Light the Night Albury-Wodonga event begins about 6.30pm Friday at QEII Square, with speeches followed by a walk around town.
Ms Aldridge said she also wanted to share her story to encourage people to sign up to become a bone marrow or blood donor.
"My donor was actually an unrelated donor from Germany," she said.
For more: https://www.leukaemia.org.au