Michelle Desilets wasn't surprised she was exhausted. The founder of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation UK had just returned from a hard, three-month business trip to Indonesia, Australia and America in 2006.
Once back at home in Ambrosden, Oxfordshire, Michelle noticed her feet were itching all the time. The itching soon spread to her entire body and was so bad that within three months she found herself red raw all over.
'I couldn't sleep and was having five cold baths a day,' says Michelle. 'Nothing the GP prescribed worked and he finally referred me to a tropical diseases expert at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital, but their treatment didn't help either.'
Finally, in May last year, Michelle, then 40, was sent to a dermatologist who suggested she be tested for lymphoma - cancer of the lymphatic system.
'I was given an urgent CAT scan but I was sure I'd picked up something in Borneo,' says Michelle.
However, the results were devastating. She did indeed have a kind of lymphoma known as Hodgkin's disease, and further tests were required to determine whether the cancer was confined to one area or had spread.
'I had the results on my 41st birthday. I felt like I'd been punched in the face,' says Michelle, who instead of going out to celebrate, curled up in bed, petrified she would never see her beloved orangutans again.
Her work with orangutans had begun in 1994 when Michelle, a former teacher, met air hostess Lone Droscher-Nielsen on a volunteering holiday in Borneo working with the animals. Five years later, they had opened their own sanctuary there - the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Project, which featured in the BBC One series Orangutan Diary in 2006.
Continue reading (incl. pics) at: My orangutans sensed I’d had cancer - they were so gentle with me when I was weak