acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
For approximately a year leading up to my diagnosis, I began experiencing various symptoms and was generally feeling unwell. About 3 months prior to diagnosis, my joint and bone pain started impacting my daily life heavily. I was struggling to lift my arms and walk normally. Of the many symptoms, the most extreme were breathing problems, extreme fatigue, headaches, and even passing out. I was admitted to Roswell Park Cancer Institute in April 2022 extremely neutropenic and anemic.
At 26 years old I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and began chemotherapy immediately. I spent weeks in Roswell Park's Leukemia Center enduring the induction phase of treatment with the ultimate goal of a bone marrow transplant following consolidation.
In the beginning, I was very anxious, unhappy, and extremely uncomfortable. I found comfort in reading and researching. I read many survivors' stories, convinced myself blueberries would heal me, and didn't show anyone I was afraid. I was extremely fortunate to have built a strong bond with my nurse Jim. He and I both loved nature. He would show me pictures of the outdoors and different animals that would visit his lawn when he would come in each day. He was even able to accompany me outside after struggling mentally with not being able to.
I am Seneca from the Seneca Allegany Territory. I was born and raised here. In the Seneca culture, it’s important that we give thanks and to keep a Good Mind; throughout my treatment, I was adamant to give thanks each morning. The concept of the Good Mind teaches us to be actively aware of our thoughts and their intent, resulting in more kind and loving thoughts. At the time of diagnosis, my oncologist shared with me how important it is to remain hopeful and that an individual's mindset or attitude is the hardest part of the battle. I reminded myself regularly and especially throughout the hardest, most painful parts how important having good thoughts was for me. I specifically recall my first bone marrow biopsy, the first of many very uncomfortable and painful procedures. The entire time all I could do was think of how thankful I was for my family and for the life I enjoyed up until that point, and that I wanted to hold my mom's hand. It was and still is very important to me to be thankful and have a good mind in all that I do. As a survivor, I am more thankful than ever. I spend a lot of my time doing things to take care of my mind and body.
I left Roswell Park on May 30th and promised myself I'd never stay another night there. The following months I went through consolidation which began to wear on me heavily. My body became weaker and weaker, but I kept pushing myself to walk my dog and workout as much as I could. In the middle of consolidation, I relapsed which led my mind to a negative place. I had even considered ending treatment, but I chose to keep trying. I completed the consolidation phase and a bone marrow biopsy was taken off the table.
On December 13th I was officially told I had achieved remission. I am infinitely grateful to my parents, my dog, my siblings, close friends, and my community for their love and support throughout my journey. Today I am 9 months into remission. The thought of my leukemia returning often pops into my mind, but I work hard to keep a good mind. I give thanks every day, I spend most of my time doing the things that I love with the people I love.
I learned about the LLS grant from a social worker at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Her name was Kate. As a young adult receiving a cancer diagnosis, I was not financially prepared to take the time off that was required for treatment. Kate helped me complete the application and even submitted it for me.
For the past few months, I've worked on healing my mind and body every day. Sometimes that means rest, often it means working out and getting outdoors with my St. Bernard, Preston. I am proud of myself for surviving, but I am often humbled by my healing. My progress is slow, working out is more difficult than I would have ever imagined, napping is my new favorite hobby, and trying to process what happened to me can be exhausting. If I have learned anything in this life it is to be thankful every day, eat lots of tacos, and to enjoy life in everything you do. I do this for me, but most importantly for those who we lose to this horrible disease every day.