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Aplastic Anemia Patient “Just Focused on Beating It”

In February of 2011 I was 22-years-old and attending Orange Coast College. One day I began to notice that I was bruising easily. My legs were covered in bruises by the time I went to my doctor.  The doctor told me I was probably anemic and run down due to my work and school schedule. She ran a regular CBC blood test. 

The next day,  I was surprised to see I had missed a call from her. It was after five o’clock so I figured I would call her the next day. I was not feeling sick - maybe a little tired - but not sick.  My phone rang that night at 6pm. It was my doctor telling me she was referring me to a hematologist/oncologist because she thought I might have leukemia. She told me I needed a transfusion (my platelet count was 56). I was so upset I could not speak. I asked her to call my mom and explain the test results to her.  I honestly thought I had to be misunderstanding her. 

A few days later, I was sitting in the waiting room of the oncologist still feeling like it was all a bad dream. He told me he was not sure what was wrong, but I needed to have a bone marrow biopsy.  Off to the hospital I went thinking there must be a mistake. On March 2, 2011, I was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia. The doctor told me he had not seen many cases, but this was the worst he had seen.  He told me I needed to be sent to the City of Hope National Medical Center close to Los Angeles. My only chance of long-term survival was a bone marrow transplant.

My family and I went home and started to search the Internet for information on this disease we had never heard of. The one place that helped was AAMDSIF.  I spoke to people at the foundation and they provided access to patient blogs and provided guidance. Suddenly I was not in this alone. There were others fighting the same fight.

Less than a month after finding the bruises, I had already had six transfusions and I was a patient at the City of Hope by the end of March.  They began testing my siblings to see if I had a match. This took a few weeks and during that time the transfusions became more frequent.  I was out of the hospital one day and began bleeding so badly from my ear lobes where my ears were pierced, that I had to be rushed to the hospital for yet another transfusion. 

During this time, I relied on my faith. I never questioned why this was happening. I just focused on beating it.  I read everything I could about aplastic anemia. At times, it scared me. Other times, it relieved me.  My life was a roller coaster of emotions. I had to quit school. My friends and family were supportive.  My boyfriend of eight months decided it was too much for him to handle.

On April 14, 2011, I was given the news that my 13-year-old sister was a match.  We all cried. My family took classes about my disease and how to support me at the City of Hope. City of Hope takes care of the whole family - not just the patient. It is an amazing place. I had long hair and I donated it before I began chemotherapy.    

Nothing could prepare me for the effect the chemotherapy would have on me physically or mentally.  The physical effects I know are different for everyone, but I was so sick to my stomach I could not hold any type of food down. I just keeping wondering that because I felt so sick, how would I be strong enough to endure the transplant?

Ready or not, the transplant took place on May 27, 2011.  I am told I was lucky. I never showed any signs of graft versus host disease.  I did have some reactions to the numerous medications I was required to take.  I spent a total of 78 days at the City of Hope. I came home bald, wearing a mask with over 16 different medications, and a PIC line in my arm that needed to be flushed daily.  But I was alive and on the road to recovery. 

It was a long road, but I am happy to say today that vitamins are my only medications, my hair is past my shoulders and I am finally back to work. I just had my six-month checkup and all is good.  When I became ill, I was in the Child Development Certification program at Orange Coast College. I have since returned to finish the program and am now working at a daycare facility. I hope to someday teach preschool through kindergarten.