I think many people hear “cancer and immediately think the worst. The thing is, not all cancers are the same. I feel that the only cancer that gets any awareness is Breast Cancer. I do believe other cancers need just as much awareness as Breast Cancer gets.
Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Diagnosis
My journey started in October 2006. I was working at a family-run convenience store and working long hours to help. I started having throbbing Pain in my arms, along with painful headaches to the point where I could not move. I decided it was time to go to a doctor and see if they could figure out what was happening. I went in and got checked out, and they took some routine Blood Tests. The doctor said I had a carpal tunnel from working long hours and chronic migraines. Three days later, I got a phone call stating that my blood tests were off and that I needed to consult a haematologist. I knew in my mind right there that I had cancer.
I consulted the haematologist two days later. More blood was drawn, and my mother and I sat in a cold room, awaiting the results. The doctor came in, looked at me and my mom and said, “You have Leukemia. You have Chronic Myeloid Leukemia or CML, and there is no cure. He then left the room and left my mother and me with this news. My mother immediately started crying, and I just sat there in shock. The doctor returned and explained that he needed a bone marrow biopsy to see how advanced the cancer was.
Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Treatment
The next day I was back at the office and sat in a room. He explained what would happen with the Biopsy and started giving me medicines to relax so I wouldn’t feel anything. He started the procedure; they used a needle about a foot long with a crank. I was screaming and screaming in Pain, and the doctor got mad and said he would send me to a different hospital and thank god he did. I got sent to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. There I met with the doctor who would save my life. I was taken in for more blood tests and, after an hour, was told that I was fortunate to be alive. All my counts were sky-high, and my Platelets were so high I was about to have a stroke. That’s why I had terrible headaches. I was told there was no stage, but my cancer wasn’t too advanced yet.
I was started on a drug called Gleevec. Gleevec is an oral chemo that Chronic Myeloid Leukemia patients have taken for quite some time. My doctor told me I was not dying soon and sent me back home. I started taking Gleevec the following day, and everything was fine for a few weeks. Then, suddenly, my feet started swelling to the point where I couldn’t put shoes on. I returned to the doctor, who concluded that it was because of Gleevec and said we would have to try another medicine. Spycelwas next on the list, and that’s the medicine I took for the following year. My life consisted of checkups, blood tests, blood transfusions, and more bone marrow biopsies.
Fast forward to late 2008, Sprycel made my blood counts dip too low, and they wouldn’t recover. The latest Biopsy showed that my chronic myeloid Leukemia was taking a turn for the worst and was on its way to becoming acute Leukemia. At this point, it was decided that I needed a bone marrow transplant. They checked the registry, and no one matched me. We did a bone marrow drive with no luck. Time was running out, so my doctor got the transplant doctor on board, and they decided that I would get an umbilical blood cord blood transplant.
In September 2009, I was hospitalised to prepare for chemo before the transplant. On September 20th, I got a transplant. Now it was just a wait to see if it worked. I had the love of my life by my side and knew I would beat this. I prayed multiple times a day. A week later, my count started to recover, and my body started making healthy cells again. I was far from being healthy enough to go home, though. I was in the hospital for four long months. Some days were easier than others, but one thing I was clear about was that I was not giving up. I was finally released on many stipulations. Every day I had to go to the doctor’s office to ensure I was okay and my blood counts were still good.
After a year, I finally heard, “You are cancer-free. I threw a party and just rejoiced that I had my life back and life at all. I now live my life to the fullest. I now only have to go back once a year to be checked. I have been cancer-free for over ten years. Life after cancer has been eventful and full of miracles. My doctors had told me there was no chance of having kids because of the chemotherapies. Heartbroken, I accepted it and moved on. Three years later, I was blessed with my first miracle. Three years after that, another little miracle. I got my tubes tied after that, haha!
I didn’t know about any support groups and didn’t know if I would have joined one back then. I feel that what groups like ZenOnco.io are doing is excellent. People need so much support during these challenging times, especially with COVID-19.
If I could sum up my journey in one sentence? Don’t let cancer win. NEVER EVER give up! Keep fighting until your last breath. I hope this helps someone. My journey has been long, but I’m here, I’m alive, and I have the doctors to thank for that.