Being diagnosed with leukemia is not the easiest thing to fathom; but these people were not ready to let the disease take over their lives.
“You have cancer”—these three words have the potential to completely throw life out of balance for anyone. However, it is far from being the end of the world. There are numerous people who have shown us time and again that you can have a fulfilling life even after having cancer, in any form. In addition, the advancement in medical science means that treatment options and ways to cope with the side effects of treatment are many, which aids cancer patients in the healing process.
There are many forms of cancer, out of which leukemia is the most diagnosed type. It is a cancer of that affects the blood-forming tissues in your body, which includes the bone marrow and lymphatic system. Leukemia starts in the white blood cells, which are a vital part of your body’s immune system. When a person develops leukemia, the bone marrow starts producing abnormal white blood cells, which do not function the way they are meant to. Both men and women can develop leukemia, but men are at a higher risk of developing the disease. Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects children as well, and causes more deaths than any other childhood cancer. However, children are diagnosed with the leukemia at a rate that is only a tenth of adult leukemia diagnoses.
Leukemia does sound scary as it has a high mortality rate as compared to some other diseases, but the good news is that treatment in this area has made huge strides in recent times, helping an increasing number of people to overcome the disease. But above all, will power and the resolve to take the challenge head on is what help people defeat leukemia. Here are the stories of few such leukemia survivors, which are sure to impress and inspire you.
Katie Collier (Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia survivor)
Standing at 6-foot-3-inches and a high school basketball champ, Katie was an athletic teen who never imagined that something like leukemia could affect her—but it did. On September 24, 2011, she was visiting the University of Washington campus for a program when suddenly her gums began to bleed. Katie wasn’t aware that it was a common symptom of leukemia, so she visited an emergency room near her home. Eventually, she landed at the UW Medical Center, where the doctors had her blood tested and looked carefully for cells that were not typical. Katie, 18 years old at the time, was lying on a hospital bed when she heard her prognosis– “You have leukemia.” The words from the doctor did not sink in immediately, but a few days later more extensive tests revealed that she had acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a rare form of acute myeloid leukemia. This is how she remembers the moment of her diagnosis—“My family was all around me, and I could see on their faces that they were serious and all, but I was just thinking that it was impossible. I was in utter shock.” The youngest of five children, Katie however did not think that being diagnosed with leukemia was the end of life as she knew it. A celebrated athlete, she knew how to face challenges and win. Her mother, a professional nurse, described her daughter as “very calm” when the doctor gave her diagnosis. She patiently listened to the doctor as he explained the diagnosis and the drug treatment that was to come next, including intravenous drug infusions.
Apart from her steely resolve, maybe what helped Katie overcome the situation was her mother’s example, who was a four-year breast cancer survivor. Katie was quite young when she had been by her mom’s side in 2008 at the clinic as she fought breast cancer. Most people who saw their parents struggle with cancer would be afraid to visit the same rooms and go through cancer treatment themselves, but not Katie. “I never dreaded going in there. People dread it but I never did,” Katie explains. And perhaps, that made all the difference. She followed up with the doctors and calmly went through the treatment, and today is a proud leukemia survivor. After all, giving up was never an option for this determined teen.
Jody Winsick-Soluri (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia survivor)
For leukemia survivor Jody, her journey of six years battling with the disease resembles an obstacle course race or a road trip to a destination not yet decided. A full-time mother, professional, homemaker, and philanthropist, Jody still remembers the day when she thought her normal life was over– January 19, 2009. On this day, she was diagnosed with Philadelphia chromosome–positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia, news that hit her out of the blue. Looking back on that day, Jody remembers thinking that just a few days ago she was kickboxing at the gym while she lay on a hospital bed and wondered about the future. Jody admits that the journey was much tougher than she had anticipated— plenty of medical setbacks came her way, taking a toll on her physically, mentally, as well as emotionally. A year after she was diagnosed, Jody’s condition slowly started to improve and she began adjusting to her “new normal.” As she puts it, “I put on my rose-colored glasses, and as far as I was concerned, I was cured.” Post transplant, she finally felt like her life was getting back on track in 2010 and she believed that she was racing towards achieving her goal of a cancer-free life. it was two years after her transplant that she finally got the news that she wanted to hear from her oncologist—that she had a 95-percent chance of a cure from leukemia. However, her battle with the disease had taught her that she needed to be cautious still. Just three days later, Jody found herself back in the ER with a low blood count—the leukemia was back even though she could not believe it. Even then, she tried her best to stay positive although it definitely wasn’t the easiest thing to do. But her determination saw her through, and after her relapse, Jody promptly asked her doctor to start chemotherapy immediately. In her mind, she figured that the sooner she began treatment, the sooner the ordeal would be over. Like many other leukemia survivors, Jody focused on the light at the end of the tunnel rather than the intensive treatment.
In August 2014, Jody went for her three-year follow up. More nervous than ever, she visited her doctor and was overjoyed to know that she had defied the odds and was still in remission. She’s definitely proud of her journey, but is cautiously optimistic at the same time. Although her second transplant was successful, she knows that leukemia has changed her visibly—her hair is much thinner, muscle tone has reduced, and the side effects like pain, fatigue, mood swings, neurological issues, and forgetfulness have become part of her life. However, all that is secondary for this spirited leukemia survivor. As she puts it, “I am thankful to be alive.” Jody was finally within reach of the finish line of her race against leukemia.
Discover top tips for a healthy body and mind with our weekly wellbeing newsletter.
Join our mailing list today.