acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL)
I was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) on January 24, 2019. I hadn’t been feeling well for a while. I was having very odd symptoms. For example, I was having joint pains, I kept hearing this whooshing noise, my gums were bleeding, and the biggest symptom was I would get out of breath so easily. Walking up the steps of my apartment building felt like running a marathon. I went to an urgent care clinic and described these symptoms, and the doctor gave me an antibiotic and sent me home. I’ll never forget his face before he discharged me. I could see he was unsure. I took the antibiotics, yet, felt no better. I actually felt worse.
I work the night shift. At the end of my work week, I decided that I was going to go to a Patient First. I finished my work that Friday morning and left work to go to Patient First. I was nervous because I felt so weird, but I just told myself that maybe my asthma was flaring, and I needed new medication. I remember how the doctor looked at me when I got to the back and told her what was going. She looked puzzled like the doctor at the urgent care. But instead of just giving me some meds and discharging me, she decided to draw my blood. Once my blood was drawn, I waited for what felt like an eternity. I started to get scared but told myself that maybe they were just busy to avoid panic. When the doctor finally came in, she was very serious when she told me that I needed a blood transfusion because my counts were so low. She then told me that she was sending me to a nearby hospital and that I needed to go there immediately. She emphasized not to go home and to go straight to the hospital.
Now I had been up all night at work, and it was my Friday. I was exhausted and definitely getting scared at this point. But I didn’t want to panic, so I drove to the hospital. While waiting at the hospital, I called my mom to let her know what was happening. Of course, she tried to tell me not to worry, but I know she was worried. I spoke to my son who was 11 at the time. I burst out into tears while speaking to him because I didn’t know what was wrong, and I had been away from him for work. I left my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, in October of 2017 to pursue work in Northern Virginia. I was working so hard to try to better our lives. The thought of something happening to me and leaving him was just too horrific. However, I pulled it together again because I still didn’t know what was wrong. When I got to the back, my cousin texted me. I guess my mom called the family. She was sharing how she had to get transfusions due to extreme periods. I had very bad periods as well, and the period I had just had was definitely the worse one I’d ever had, so that made me feel better. Then the doctor came in. The doctor explained to me that I had these blasts in my blood, and honestly, after that, I zoned out. I knew what that meant. Then I heard the mention of leukemia, and I know time stopped. When I tuned back in, he was asking me about hospitals I could transfer to because I needed to be in an oncology unit. I was able to let him know which one I preferred and was transported to Inova Fairfax.
By the time I got to the hospital, it was late at night. Keep in mind that I never went home from work. Once at the hospital, I started my induction process and stayed there until the first week of March. The doctors and nurses told me that I was lucky to have APL. They said it has a high cure rate, but finding out you have cancer doesn’t feel lucky. Once out of the hospital, I started the chemo treatment. I went back to work as well, still overnight. I would work at night and go to chemo in the mornings during my cycles. I know some people thought I was crazy, but going to work was better than being sick at home alone. Although going through cancer treatment is hard, I found a strength in myself living through it that can’t be matched. And I met so many angels throughout it that I will never forget. I am cancer-free still, and on June 20, I had another baby, another little boy. Maybe I am lucky, but I see it as blessed. When I was admitted to the hospital, unbeknownst to me, I had about two weeks of life left. I am grateful for every day.