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My Journey: Acute Myeloid Leukemia at 19 Years Old

On April 26th, 2019, I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at the age of 19. At the time, I was a sophomore in college and a field hockey player who was preparing for finals when I got the call that changed my life. Before finding out, I was experiencing extreme symptoms such as complete fatigue, loss of appetite, and random bruising. After getting some blood work done to check for either anemia or mono, I got a call at about noon to rush to the nearest emergency room. That day I found out I had cancer, and that night I was admitted to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to begin treatment immediately.

A rocky start to treatment

The initial “road-map” was to go through 4 rounds of chemotherapy, but after finding 3 gene mutations- FLT-3, NPM1, and WT1- the doctors decided my best chance at life would be to do a bone marrow transplant after my rounds of chemo. During my first round of chemo, I was in the hospital for over 55 days after getting a lung infection. Right after I finished that first dose of chemo, breathing became very difficult and I was transferred to the ICU. After a few tough days of breathing, I was put on a ventilator. Although, I continued to fight, and was able to get through this round.

After this, I went through three more rounds of in-patient chemotherapy all about 40 days long (5-10 days of chemo and the rest of the time to recover). Although there were not as many complications in these rounds, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. The chemotherapy gives terrible side effects such as extreme nausea, mucositis, fevers, body aches, no appetite, and countless others. I spent most of those days laying in a hospital bed hooked up to medicines, feeding tubes, and of course, chemo.

All I could do was wait

On October 30th, I received my bone marrow transplant. My brother, Tyler, had been a 100% DNA match and did the courageous and selfless act of donating his marrow to save my life. After that, the main focus was all about recovery and not getting any infections. The hardest part about this was I had no control over whether or not the transplant worked, all I could do was wait and see. I spent about 3 months in isolation after my transplant at the Ronald McDonald House but I was finally able to go home for good right after the new year. Although I was nowhere close to being done with cancer, it felt like a huge step for me. Since then, I go back to get blood draws, scans, and biopsies to make sure it has not come back and I am healthy.

Today, I have returned to school (although it is mostly online right now) and to playing field hockey. Even though the pandemic has taken over, getting back to the “new normal” has been a huge step for me. I passed my one-year post-transplant check-up with no traces of leukemia and my bone marrow is still 100% my brother's DNA, which is the best news I could ask for. I am even starting to get my vaccinations! The cancer road is an unpredictable and scary thing, but with the help of incredible health-care workers and my support system, I am able to continue doing the things I love.

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