My donor brother Adrian and I during the transplant. The bag that I am pointing to is the bag of bone marrow.

Pearl Rojas

First post: 5/20/2014 Latest post: 12/20/2016
I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia on April 15, 2014. Here's the whole story...

I was living in Dutch Harbor, Alaska which is a small island along the Aleutian Chain. It's a small community mainly focused around commercial fishing. I work as a Fisheries Biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Observer Program. Life was great, life was normal, until I started getting terrible headaches. I would say that the headaches and symptoms started around March 2014. They were pounding headaches that did not go away and I could hear my heart beating in my ears when I got them. I would go to sleep with the headaches and wake up with them. I would go to the gym in the morning and noticed that I was not able to workout as much and would get tired very easy. I was more tired in general. I noticed that I bruised a lot easier and it would take much longer for the bruise to go away. I noticed that I was getting winded and dizzy just walking up one flight of stairs. On April 15th I woke up in the morning with a throbbing headache, but decided to follow my normal routine and head to the gym. For those of you who don't know me well, I'm pretty tough and can tolerate more than most. That morning walking from my apartment to the car of my gym buddy got me winded. When I got in her car she even asked if I was ok and if I was sure I wanted to go to the gym. I said I was already up and ready, lets just go. Once at the gym, I jumped on the treadmill to walk. I couldn't even walk on the treadmill at no incline and 2.5 speed without feeling like I was going to pass out. I called it quits and went back home. Later that day I finally decided to go to the clinic and get checked out. That morning they were not taking appointments and were only doing walk-ins. When I got there, there was a few people ahead of me and then they announced that an emergency case just came in and getting seen might take a little longer. As I was thinking about leaving they called my name. The clinic kept me there for a couple hours, asking me questions and drawing blood. When the blood tests came back it showed that I was severely anemic and had an extremely low platelet count. My hemoglobin level was 4.5, normal for a female is between 12-16. And platelets are what makes your blood clot, that explained the bruising. The doctor told me I needed a blood transfusion immediately and that the clinic was not equipped to treat me. Several of my friends met me at the clinic and put together a bag for me, 45 minutes later I was boarding a medical flight to Anchorage, AK. It was a small plane that carried two pilots, 2 EMT workers and me. Once we landed in Anchorage (3 hours later) I was transported to the hospital. While in the hospital in Anchorage the conducted more blood tests and set me up for my first blood transfusion. It was in Anchorage that I found out I had leukemia. Anchorage was not equipped to diagnose me further or treat my condition so I was sent down to Seattle, WA. I was put on another medical flight with the same crew size at the last. On the flight I received another blood transfusion and after 3.5 hours I was landing in Seattle and transported straight to the hospital. I must have arrived around 3AM on April 16. Everything happened quite quickly.

I was taken to the University of Washington hospital in Seattle and admitted to the leukemia floor. Once they got me settled in the did more blood tests. My mom and aunt arrived early that afternoon and met me at the hospital. The doctors determined from the blood tests that I had Acute Myeloid Leukemia and wanted to do a bone marrow biopsy to further see what was going on. While in Seattle they conducted various tests and gave me blood and platelet transfusions. The doctors were amazing and helpful through everything. After much consideration they purposed the idea of me transferring down to a hospital in San Diego so that I would be closer to family and where I would have a strong support system. Considering the potentially long road ahead it made sense to transfer to UC San Diego hospital for my treatment. The UW doctors did a great job of getting me well enough to fly down to San Diego. The best part of being in Seattle for the short time was getting visits from all my local friends! On April 19 I took a commercial flight from Seattle to San Diego with my mom and aunt.

Once I arrived in San Diego I headed straight to the hospital. They set me up in my room and once again started with all the blood tests. The doctors came in and went over the chemotherapy plan with me. By April 20th I was starting chemo. I was put on a 7+3 Induction Chemo Regimen with Cytarabine and Idarubcin. I received the Cytarabine for 7 days over a 24 hour IV drip and the Idarubcin was a 15 minute injection administered via IV. I tolerated the chemo quite well, it was after the chemo when the bad days started. The chemo killed all the cells in my body including my immune system. I am not allowed to leave my floor in the hospital, I'm on a low microbial diet and no sick people are allowed to visit.

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