On April 8, 2016, I was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a subtype of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). I was 23 weeks pregnant. For almost five years, my husband, Allan, and I battled unexplained infertility. After three failed fertility treatments, we finally found ourselves pregnant the “au natural” way!
At 18 weeks, I was diagnosed with a liver disorder and went for frequent blood work to ensure my liver was responding to the treatment. One of these blood tests revealed that I was severely anemic and my white blood cell counts were off. My perinatologist (an obstetrician who focuses on high-risk pregnancies), referred me to a hematologist to take a closer look, but the doctor’s next available appointment was not for another month.
A few weeks later, I woke up with a fever, aches, chills, cough, and a racing heart. I was rushed to the hospital where I was under 24-hour observation followed by an emergency appointment with the hematologist. After reviewing my lab report, his eyes widened. He said it could be a number of things, but that I needed a bone marrow biopsy.
I was immediately re-admitted to the hospital for the biopsy. They told us it would take a week to get the full results so I just assumed they would simply give me a blood transfusion to increase my numbers, control my fever and observe me for a day or so. Then, let me go home.
Just a few hours after the biopsy, around 9:30 pm, the doctor came in to break the news to us: “I am so sorry to be the one to tell you, but you have leukemia.” We were stunned and shocked. We were not expecting that one at all.
Our doctors stayed with us until 1:00 am explaining my diagnosis and answering our questions. My treatment started as soon as they left the room – all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) and idarubicin.
I was doing quite well until April 21. Before bed, I was having trouble talking without coughing and every time I tried falling asleep I would wake up gasping for air. I woke up Allan around 11:30 pm to get the nurse – the next six hours everything changed.
Just as the nurses were rushing me down to the ICU, I started coughing up a lot of blood. The following hours are blurry. The next thing I remember is an anesthesiologist, OB/GYN, and a whole team of labor and delivery nurses showed up and started setting up my room with an incubator and surgical equipment. I was going through respiratory failure and was crashing. They were standing by to do an emergency C-section.
Miraculously, my daughter remained safely in my womb. I spent the next week in ICU, and a total of a month and a half in the hospital so they could observe my daughter closely. I went through two rounds of treatment while pregnant. Then, I took a short break from treatments to prepare for the arrival of my daughter.
On July 12, I gave birth to my beautiful, perfectly healthy daughter. Seeing her sweet face for the first time made the previous three months seem like an eternity ago. Having cancer while pregnant is rare, but a rare cancer and pregnancy is like getting struck by lightning twice. The doctors were not sure what to expect. We continue to be a case study as they track our progress. To be proactive, we take my daughter for a heart sonogram every couple of months. She remains in perfectly great health. I am so blessed.
In August, I began maintenance treatment again. Now I am on ATRA and arsenic trioxide (ATO), which leaves me tired and dries out my skin. Treatment is every day, Monday through Friday – one month on, one month off until February 2017.
It’s so difficult to leave my newborn every day while I go to treatment but I know the end is in sight. My faith as well as the support I have received from family, friends, and reading the stories of other survivors on the LLS website, has kept me going.
The stories of other survivors and loved ones have been a source of inspiration and comfort. I am a firm believer that our stories serve a greater purpose.
That’s why I participated in the the Fort Lauderdale Light The Night Walk on November 14 with my family, supporters, nurses and oncologists. It was incredibly inspiring to see the masses out there in support of raising awareness and funds for blood cancer research.
During the walk, every light represents a story to be told – red lanterns for supporters, gold for those we lost, and white lanterns for survivors, like me.
I believe everything happens for a reason. If my daughter was born four and a half years ago, when we started trying to get pregnant, I may not have been diagnosed until it was too late. My daughter came at just the right time to save my life.
Julianna lives in Fort Lauderdale with her husband, Allan, and beautiful daughter, Alianna.
They say, “Teamwork makes the dream work” and the 2016 Light The Night Salesforce team’s March to a Million initiative has proved this is true. As LLS’s longtime Light The Night partner, the team of more than 1,880 participants from across the U.S. went above and beyond this year to fight blood cancer. Not only did they meet their $1 million dollar fundraising goal, but Salesforce has generously offered to match it— bringing their total amount raised to more than $2 million for LLS’s goal to create a world without blood cancers!
Local Salesforce Light The Night teams have been taking steps to end cancer at various walk locations throughout the country this fall. They kicked-off their National team walk at The AT&T Park in San Francisco on November 10. Even though they’ve already reached their million dollar fundraising goal, they are still working hard to raise as much as they can until the end of the calendar year.
As part of their powerful fundraising campaign, Salesforce created a video which features three members of their team who have been deeply impacted by cancer.
John, AML survivor
John remembers November 5, 2010 very clearly, it was the day his doctor told him he had one of the most deadly forms of blood cancer, acute myeloid leukemia (AML). He was immediately sent to the hospital to begin treatment. Unknown to John and his wife, he would remain in the hospital for the following two months— literally fighting for his life. His two young boys were in diapers at the time, so his wife had to manage all of their needs, on top of being John’s primary caregiver
Today, thanks to LLS-funded research, John can proudly say he is a cancer survivor. John is now a Team Captain for the Salesforce international Light The Night team and uses his role to help other patients and drive support until a cure is found.
Ali, breast cancer survivor
On March 6, 2015, Ali was newly married and happily planning her future when she received news that would change her life forever—she had breast cancer. She had no family history of cancer and the diagnosis came as a complete shock.
Today, Ali is cancer free, but wants to spare others from experiencing a cancer diagnosis. She has been with Salesforce since 2011 and proudly holds her white lantern high to celebrate her survivorship. She knows that LLS invests in lifesaving research that impacts not only blood cancer, but other cancers and chronic diseases as well.
Nicole, account executive
Nicole’s Aunt Bridgette who she called “Aunt BG” was more of a friend than an aunt to Nicole, and she looked forward to sharing her biggest life moments with her, but then the unthinkable happened. Aunt BG was diagnosed with leukemia at 21-years-old, and lost her life to this disease. This left Nicole and her family shaken and changed forever.
Nicole has been a member of the Salesforce family since 2015, and by participating in the Light The Night campaign she has found a way to bring light to the darkness of losing her beloved aunt. Nicole reminds us that every donation, big or small, helps bring us closer to a world without blood cancers. She is very proud to be a part of the Salesforce March to a Million effort.
Help bring light to the darkness of cancer, and donate to Salesforce’s Light The Night team here.
2016 Salesforce National Light The Night Team at AT&T Park, San Francisco
After Eevie was born, she was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood blood cancer that affects 1 in 5 million newborns. She was given a 17 percent chance of surviving to age 2. This month, Eevie celebrated her third birthday. Her mother, Brynne, tells her story…
When Eevie was born, we noticed little blue spots all over her body. Tests later revealed that her white blood cell count was 50 times higher than normal. Hours later, my husband Ryan, Eevie and I were flown to a children’s hospital that specializes in pediatric hematology and oncology. I had just given birth, and all of the sudden we were on the cancer floor.
The oncologist confirmed our worst fear. Eevie had congenital acute lymphoblastic leukemia. At that moment, I nearly threw up. I could barely breathe.
We spent seven months at the hospital in a city away from home. I stayed with Eevie while Ryan, a police officer, drove back-and-forth to work so we could keep our insurance.
After this long stay, we were thrilled to bring our baby home. Eevie continued treatment at home and we also traveled back to the hospital for several rounds of lengthy in-patient chemotherapy. We enrolled her in three different experimental treatment studies.
The side effects were tough. Eevie vomited continuously throughout the day, had numerous infections and was in-and-out of intensive care. At one point, she completely stopped breathing twice in one day. I just started screaming. There is nothing like watching your daughter’s oxygen numbers drop as a medical team tries to keep her alive.
After the high-dose chemotherapy was finished, we thought we were headed for smooth sailing. She was cancer free!
Our moment of light did not last long enough. Eevie had a severe reaction to chemotherapy, which caused her body to attack itself. Over the course of a month, a rash that looked like a severe burn spread over her entire body. She rapidly began to lose weight and was only 15 pounds at age 2. We went to about 20 different doctors locally and throughout Kansas and Missouri.
Eventually the rash became so severe, that we cancelled our much-awaited trip to Disney World and flew to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for a three-month inpatient stay. Top dermatologists had never seen anything like it. We were back to the airplanes and IV poles. Back to sleepless nights living in the hospital. Back to the fear and back to the darkness.
The holiday season brought hope. Just before Christmas, Eevie underwent an exploratory surgery, and extensive labs revealed she had Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Syndrome (SCID) or "Bubble Boy" disease. Testing revealed that the disease was not genetic and was most likely caused by the chemotherapy.
She received an immunoglobulin therapy, which had a miraculous effect. The rash literally melted away. The doctors said she would need time to recover and anticipated she would need a bone marrow transplant.
With our new plan in place, Eevie arrived home from Philadelphia just in time for Christmas. We were beyond blissful to have her home, but this holiday was far from typical.
For the next six months, we were under strict precautions. Eevie was not able to go out in public or leave the house. She could not be near other children. All water – including bath water – had to be sterilized or boiled. She could not touch any grass or plants.
After a few months, her immune system began to recover on its own. By September, Eevie miraculously recovered. She no longer needed a transplant.
Since then, we have been free. Free to roam Target. Free to buy bacon at the grocery store. Free to drink a glass of water from the sink. Free to stand in the grass. Even free to hold hands with cousins at the zoo. In addition, we are now free to go on our upcoming trip to Disney World!
When I look at Eevie, my heart is filled with so much gratitude it becomes difficult to breathe. Not only is she surviving, she is thriving. This week, I wept tears of joy as I dropped Eevie off at her very first day of preschool. I long to take Eevie prom dress shopping, console her through her first break up, and watch her walk down the aisle.
We do not know exactly why Eevie made it through. We do know that it is likely due to an intricate combination of various treatments. Through life-saving research funded by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, this kind of hope is made possible – for my family, and for all the other families impacted by blood cancer.
These days, our family has very different views of the meaning of happiness and the meaning of pain. Over the past three years, hardship has become our acquaintance, awareness our friend, and gratitude our dearest companion.
We have realized that we can never say with certainty that something will or will not happen. For us, a marathon of despair turned to a journey of hope. For our little family – though I am not sure how or why – the impossible became possible.
Brynne and her husband, Ryan, live in Wichita, KS. Ryan is a police officer and Brynne is psychologist. Eevie is their first and only child. They also have a dog – a Pug mix named Annie. To read more stories about Eevie, click here.
This #GivingTuesday, help LLS continue to celebrate the joy of loved ones “coming home” after cancer treatment. When you support LLS you not only advance pioneering research, you accelerate promising treatments that save lives. Together let’s make someday, today! Join us at www.lls.org/givingtuesday