How it happened: But first, thank you for visiting my Caring Bridge site. Being 3,000 miles away from most of my friends and family, I'm using this site as a bridge for those who care. For those who care to be updated and feel close by. My journey has changed me so much and it's only just begun. Here, I'll be posting not only the physical updates and progress of my health and treatments, but emotional updates. There is a crazy road ahead I've never been down, but I'm ready and willing with the faith I'll persevere. I appreciate your support and ongoing strength and prayers.
My diagnosis and how it came about:
Mid-Summer 2016, I noticed a few lymph nodes swollen throughout my neck. I felt as though tonsillitis was coming on (my tonsils have always given my problems, so this wasn't anything too surprising to me). I figured the two correlated. My other symptoms, however, included fatigue and an extremely high heart rate (over minimal exertion). Climbing a small set of stairs made me short of breath and light-headed. I could feel my heart rate beating through my ears. I thought to myself, "I know I'm not in the best shape of my life, but dang, this seems crazy." I've always been the kind of person who'd rather "walk it off" than go see doctor. So, I ignored it a bit, typical Sam.
A few weeks into my symptoms, I decided to see my doctor. He confirmed tonsillitis and set me up on antibiotics. Even after taking them, my lymph nodes still remained swollen. They began to spread to more places, too; behind the ears, up and down the sides of the neck and behind the head. It was starting to worry me at this point. I just knew something wasn't right.
On the following Saturday, my last photo shoot was in an apartment on the 4th floor. I knew if 10 steps were tough, every step to the 4th floor would be a battle of stopping and catching my breath. It was just that. When I got home from work, I knew these physical symptoms were far too concerning to let them continue and checked myself into the emergency room.
After a CT scan, x-rays and blood tests, the ER doctor found that I am very anemic. Most women my age should have a blood count of 12-12.5 and mine was at 5.7, yikes. They were surprised I was awake. This explained the high heart rate and overall fatigue. There wasn't much blood flow. The doctor suggested a blood transfusion (which creeped me out at first) and immediately admitted me to the hospital. But honestly, after the transfusions, I felt like a million bucks and was ready to go home.
However, the doctors were still in question as to why my platelets were so low and kept me in the hospital until they could find out why. By the fourth day of my hospital stay (and many, MANY blood tests later), the doctors finally went with a bone marrow biopsy that immediately showed leukemia. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) to be exact. My initial reaction was a straight face. Followed by a confused face. First of all, I feel fine. Secondly, isn't leukemia mostly found in children?
ALL is cancer of the blood and bone marrow. It progresses rapidly, replacing healthy cells that produce functional lymphocytes with leukemia cells that can't mature properly. The leukemia cells are carried in the bloodstream to other organs and tissues, including the brain, liver, lymph nodes, where they continue to grow and divide. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia occurs most frequently in people under the age of 15 or over the age of 45. I'm 30, falling right in the middle. Thus making my case rare. Although ALL makes up the largest percentage of leukemia diagnoses in children 2-4, it is rare for adults to develop this disease. Not a lot of hospitals treat ALL because it's mostly found in children (who get treatment at a children's hospital), thus making me resort to being an inpatient (where I'll be living at the hospital a couple weeks at a time; receiving chemo and recovering until my numbers are okay to go home. I'll be able to stay home about a week until the next chemo. This process is repeated until the completion of chemo).
The doctors are as optimistic about my case as they can be. They're happy with the health of my body and are glad I don't smoke. Luckily, too, the bone marrow (that went out for testing) came back showing I am NOT a "high risk" leukemic. Thank you, Lord!
Dr. Gandhi is putting me through two full cycles of chemo. One to kill the cancer and the other to be sure. Each cycle has two parts, each part has an A & B. Think of it like pizza. You cut the pizza in half (your two parts)... then cut each half into two pieces (your A&B). You're left with four pieces of pizza. Since you have two pizzas (the two cycles)... that's eight big slices of pizza and I've only finished one thus far. Here's to seven more!