The Beginning of My Acute Myeloid Life
I was your everyday high school student before being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in 2003. Going into my junior year at 15 years old, I spent the summer months working as a janitor’s assistant. Everyday comprised of heavy lifting and rigorous cleaning as the first day of school drew closer. As an athlete (see my instagram here), I never had an issue of lifting a table, scrubbing the floors, or moving heavy rugs around. But as soon as the school year began, things changed drastically.
I don’t remember the day my symptoms started showing up. However, at the same time, my mother was experiencing her own health issues. At the time, it was logical that the fatigue, hot flashes, and nausea I experienced were all attributed to mononucleosis. It was odd that I couldn’t run a practice lap around the soccer field. However, I walked around school believing that the problem was minor and temporary. It wasn’t until my mother was released from the hospital and witnessed me struggling to carry a bag of groceries that a decision was made to go to the emergency room.
A lot of what happened next was a blur. What I do remember is that when the blood tests came back, it was the first time I had ever seen my parents cry.
I didn’t understand why, and maybe it was best that way.
But later I learned that at my time of admission, my hemoglobin level was critically low due to the rapid production of white blood cells in my body. When your body overproduces white blood cells, it decreases your ability to fight infection and transport oxygen because the healthy cells are crowded out by immature ones. In short, I was anemic and at high risk for infection.
I was whisked away to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where I spent a day in the ICU. Much to my satisfaction, one of the first actions the hospital took was removing my braces. This was done to reduce the chances of any cuts in my mouth. Due to the acute nature of my leukemia, action had to be taken quickly. My mother and I lived by ourselves at the time. It is scary to know I was at high risk for heart or organ failure while she was hospitalized. AML is a very aggressive form of leukemia and we were very fortunate to have caught it when the opportunity to treat it was still present. My story is a fundamental lesson in making sure warning signs are being reported even if they don’t appear to be a big deal.
How long did it take to be properly diagnosed?