Individual
Michele
United States
Story

~February: Cancer Prevention Month~

~February 4: World Cancer day~

Thinking about this day and month means everything to me. Cancer. Though cancer can be scary, many of us will be touched by this in some form. Whether it be from a loved one or whether you yourself are diagnosed, cancer is scary for all of us. Most of us want to hide from the subject or don’t want to talk about it. I am not going to lie but that was me. We hide for different reasons- maybe we are scared or maybe we want to appear strong.

Those were just 2 of the reasons I wanted to HIDE from it.

For those of you who I don’t know and those of you who do know me, you may not know this but I am in Remission. I had a cancer a little over a year ago.

Everyone deals with a diagnosis in different ways. For some of you this might come as a shock, I didn’t try to hide it, I just didn’t want to be defined by it.

When I found out I was cancer free I wrote:

“Bald is beautiful. Words and looks can be truly powerful. Positivity can change one’s opinion and most important of all, people.  Surround yourself with people that make you cry that you’re laughing so hard, that make you smile for no reason, and leave your heart whole. I am forever and beyond grateful to have my family especially my brother, my doctors, nurses and such great friends and co-workers in my life. Words can’t even express the emotion and love I have felt. Their words, their looks, and their positivity have helped me to gather the strength that I have needed and I couldn’t have asked for anything more in my life. I was bald, I lost weight, my body changed, but I am still beautiful.”

~ I am now 1 year 1 month in remission~

In 2018, my world was turned upside down. Out of nowhere, on the day after my 24th birthday, I found out I was diagnosed with Leukemia (the type I had was AML which stands for Acute Myeloid Leukemia) and started undergoing treatment.  I underwent 3 rounds of chemo and a stem cell transplant

Over the last year, I have learned many things about others, about myself, and about happiness. The most important thing I learned is Awareness.  Understanding your body and listening to yourself is crucial.

I remember prior to my diagnosis, I didn’t think anything was wrong. When I look back now I remember many things going on but didn’t realize the impact:

–          I was tired all the time

–          I started getting sick

–          I was out of breath

–          I couldn’t really exercise

–          I started bruising easily

I went to the doctor multiple times over the course of 2 months pre-diagnosis but it wasn’t until I got my blood tested to see my counts (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets) were abnormal (low). I was told to go to the hospital.

I still didn’t think I was sick…

No one wants to hear that word, Cancer.

Two bags of blood and one bone marrow biopsy later I found I was diagnosed withLeukemia (AML).

I remember of course thinking, WHY? I never used to get sick, I was young, I was healthy. In fact, most people with this type of cancer are white, 60+ men. I remember them telling me Leukemia isn’t genetic, I remember them comparing it to being as random as a car crash, I remember being scared.

Over the next couple of months (April 2018 to September 2018) I went through:

–          2 months in the hospital (At the end of June I was allowed to go home but had to come back at least 3 times a week) 

–          A cryopreservation Surgery

–          Countless blood/platelet transfusions

–          8 Bone marrow biopsies

–          Getting a line to my heart

–          Dealt with getting scabies 3 times 

-           2 rounds of chemo

~But thankfully~

In September 2018, my brother ended up being a perfect match (25% chance). If he wasn’t, I would have to look to the registry. Though there is the possibility of finding a match on the registry it is a small percent in general and even smaller because I am bi-racial.

Awareness about Be the Match and the registry:

Be the match is an “organization for thousands of people diagnosed every year with life-threatening blood cancers. The organization manages the largest and most diverse marrow registry in the world (1).” The process is easy as they send you a kit to cotton swab your mouth, you send it back, and then you wait to see if you are a match for a current stem cell patient. My ask here is to please consider this donation as many companies and organizations have established donor leave policies (The Hartford does!) that provide up to 7 days of paid leave for bone marrow donors. The act of donating means everything in a cancer patient’s eyes.

Bone Marrow donation process

 

You might be wondering what exactly is the registry? Why do they need this? The registry “provides the most diverse listing of potential donors and umbilical cord blood units in the world. About 70% (7 out of 10) of patients who need a transplant do not have a matched donor in their family (Be the Match).” It is crazy how you could not know someone, be half way around the world, could end up being someone’s perfect match and saving someone’s life. My brother was able to save my life but please consider saving someone else’s life.

Be the Match: For more information and How to donate? (1)

https://bethematch.org

Post-Transplant:

I spent another month in the hospital on the month of September 2018:

–          I was taking over 30 + pills a day

–          I had 4 more Bone Marrow Biopsies

–          I was hospitalized for MRSA twice

–          I got a blood clot

–          I had countless blood/platelet transfusions

–          I got scabies for the 4th and 5th time

–          I had CDif

–          I had 2 more PICC lines put into me

–          I went through severe skin issues and treatments

–          I was in house (“house arrest”) for 3 months until my day 100 (Oct 2018 to Jan 2019)

October 2018: I tried to be active during my time on house arrest

Through all the hardships, Day 100 was a huge milestone for me. I was able to celebrate my 100 days with my friends (and leave the house for a little!), donating over $1400 to the American Cancer Society 

In September 2019:

–          I was one year post transplant

–          I was off all my medications

–          I started going into the office everyday

–          I started getting my vaccinations (Stem cell patients have to get re-vaccinated like a newborn baby, which is a 2 year process)

–          I BECAME STRONG. I AM STRONG.

In October 2019:

“In all this darkness, we must remember to see the light

Light the night is country-wide event where people honor current patients, survivors, and remember loved ones provided by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. My friends were able to provide light in all my darkness, and I am very thankful for that.

In December 2019:

I was one year in remission

Now:

I am thankful

I am Happy

I wanted to share my story to provide not only Awareness but HOPE.

I remember searching for someone like me in my situation. I remember searching for HOPE

 

To wrap it all up- I don’t want you to pity me, I don’t want you to feel bad. Though I have been through a lot, I have learned and I have grown. I don’t want people to think of me as the girl who had cancer but the girl who shows that we are all STRONG. I wanted to be vulnerable and raw to show the struggles I went through but rather that we alI go through hardships and for me, being real is what helps me to relate, to cope, to be informed. Everyone goes through different obstacles in their life (cancer or not) and everyone has a different way of how they want to deal with their own situation. You never know what someone else is going through, you can’t compare, and we can’t judge. We are all human. We might be able to relate through some aspect but you can’t KNOW.

Mental health. Whether that be surrounding yourself with your loved ones, giving yourself your own time, or healing in whatever way makes you happy. We all are different and everyone has moments of weakness, some might take longer than others but ultimately we are all strong.

I am forever thankful to be given another chance. Again, awareness is everything. Many of us will be touched by some form of cancer. Understand your body and spread the love.

Always,

Michele

References

Be the Match:

https://bethematch.org/patients-and-families/before-transplant/find-a-donor/be-the-match-registry/

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