On October 22, 2013, as a senior in college, I was spontaneously diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). I was immediately admitted into the hospital and began chemotherapy. The doctors basically said, "good luck”, as I received the routine treatment that has a survival rate of 25%. My life was flipped upside down in a matter of days. I went from planning what I was going to do after college, to deciding if I would want people at my funeral to wear black or be colorful. I didn't know whether to cry, scream, or be angry.
Cancer was definitely something I never saw coming. While receiving from chemotherapy, the doctors started looking for a bone marrow donor. Although siblings only have a 25% chance of being a match for a bone marrow transplant, I was extremely blessed, as my sister was a 100% match. On January 15, 2014 I received my bone marrow transplant from my sister.
Since then, I have been trying to rediscover normalcy and it isn’t quite what I thought life after cancer would be like. In my head when I thought of living without cancer, I would be back to the old me and my life, my habits, my likes. Would go back to how they were before. That’s not even close to what happened. Although the transplant worked and helped completely get rid of my AML, I now live with graft vs host disease (GVHD), a side effect from the transplant. GVHD is one of the side effects a patient can experience when they receive a transplant to help treat a blood cancer. I have had GVHD in my stomach, liver, kidneys, esophagus, mouth, and currently with my skin. Because of GVHD, I also live with arthritis in legs and hands. I’m in pain every day and struggle to do the simplest things, such as give a high five or tie my shoe laces.
After my diagnosis and treatments, I lived a life based on fear. Fear that I might relapse with AML but with the efforts from The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) and their BEAT AML campaign, my fear has slowly diminished and I now have hope for the future. Being a cancer survivor has been really tough, cancer has become a shadow that follows me daily and although it has left its lifetime scars, it has also given me a strength I never knew I had. My fear turning into hope has been made possible in part by LLS and all of their efforts to end this horrible disease and support all of us, our caregivers and support systems, who have defeated this monster.
LLS has been partnering with researchers on new and improved treatment options that will help patients take a step towards a normal life. For a patient to not have to worry about if their treatment will work or what kind of life they will have post-treatment, is truly an incredible thing. They will be able to take a deep breath and say, “There is a plan and I will be back to normal in no time.” As I move forward, I am filled with the hope that one day, in the very near future, we will see in big bold letters, WE HAVE A CURE FOR CANCER!
Thank you LLS and thank you to everyone here, because without your support, I would still be living a life filled with fear. Thank you for bringing out the beautiful smiles in cancer patients, caregivers and survivors.