When You Wonder, Could it Happen to Me?

“That’s very sad, but it’s not you.”

It was scary when my good friend died

My son said words to this effect years ago when my good friend and soulmate PJ died. The two of us had found each other through our blogs and were so alike that we called each other doppelgängers. We both had acute myeloid leukemia.

We were runners with three children. We were the same age. We were treated at the same cancer center. We both relapsed and survived a second transplant. We were both Jewish, both klutzes who had a self-deprecating sense of humor. Both dog lovers. The similarities went on and on.

Then our paths separated. Her falls were not funny anymore. She suffered through many problems. When she relapsed again, it wasn’t treatable. She died in 2014. Her blog, The Plog, is still up.

We had similar blood cancer diagnosis

I was so sad when she died. I was also threatened. It brought the specter of death close to home. If it could happen to her, why not me?

When sense of stability is threatened

“That’s very sad, but it’s not you.”

I said these same words to myself when something else threatened my sense of stability. This time, it was nobody I knew. And it wasn’t a death. It was a relapse…10 years after a stem cell transplant for acute myeloid leukemia. I heard about it from a friend who called and said she had a question. Before asking the question, she told the story. She said her brother and sister-in-law were in a book group reading a memoir by a young author, Suleika Jaouad. https://www.suleikajaouad.com/book

The book, Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of Life Interrupted, is her story of her diagnosis, at age 22, of an aggressive form of AML. She had a 35 percent chance of survival. My friend said that her brother kind of knows the author. And my friend wanted to know, if the author was interested, would I want to talk to her.

News of a relapse

Because, after 10 years, she had relapsed and was facing another transplant.

I think I stammered. “But, but, but.” The “but” was that I couldn’t understand how it could come back after 10 years. MY doctors had said that after five years I was cured. I thought five years was the magic “you’re safe” mark. How could it come back after 10 years? Could mine come back, 12 years after my fourth transplant?

My friend said she was quickly realizing her call was a bad idea. I had to agree with that.

In an updated posted Dec. 1, Jaouad wrote, “Dear Friend, There is something I wish to tell you today, something I have long feared but hoped would never come to pass. Two weeks ago, I received the devastating news that my leukemia is back. I’m currently undergoing chemotherapy, and I have a long road ahead, including another bone marrow transplant… Everything has changed so drastically, so quickly. I feel shell shocked.”1

Her AML is different from mine

I needed to take a step back.

Her symptoms, such as itching, were not the same as mine. Her prognosis – a 35 percent of survival – and the category – an aggressive form of AML – were not the same as mine. I remember my doctor telling me that (in non-medical terms) AML falls into three categories: good, intermediate, and bad. Most, like mine, are intermediate. If she was told that hers was aggressive, I imagine it is in the last category.

Every cancer is unique

In addition, I have no idea what her subtype is. And truth be told, I don’t even know what my subtype was. There are some people (like my friend PJ) who want to know all the details. I was not one of them. In my old newsroom, when stories had way too much information, we would say that it had “more than I never wanted to know.” In some ways, I know more than I never wanted to know about blood cancer. But I actually didn’t know that AML has nine subtypes.2

I do know that: I am very sorry she is going through this. If she wanted to talk to me about getting repeat transplants:

  • I would of course be happy to offer encouragement, and
  • She is not me, and I am not her.

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