I was your typical 14 year old teenager who always enjoyed spending time with friends and playing sports. On and off for about two years, my parents would take me to see different doctors to figure out why I had aches and pains, stomach issues and fatigue.
When I tried out for the middle school volleyball team, I remember that every time the ball bounced off my arms it would leave a terrible bruise. I wore arm pads in hopes it would help, but unfortunately it didn’t, so I had to stop playing. It was when I went to a podiatrist for foot pain that I learned what was about to come. The doctor was alarmed by all the bruising and suggested I have blood work to rule out rheumatoid arthritis.
After going for blood work, my pediatrician called with the results. It was just a few days after Christmas when my parents were told to immediately bring me to the pediatric hematology/oncology waiting room at Schneider Children’s Hospital. I was sleeping at the time of this phone call, but years later I found out that my parents had broken down immediately, before even waking me up. Who knew it would be the beginning of many overnight stays in the hospital. My three older brothers and sister hugged me as I headed out the door.
It took about an hour to get to the hospital, trips that created a lot of anxiety for me. Less than a mile from the hospital, I would start shaking. It was a feeling I could never get used to.
The nurses were expecting me. They did blood work and took a bone marrow biopsy. My platelets were only 17,000 and red blood cells were also very low, so I received transfusions. Even though the doctor suspected it was aplastic anemia, he wanted to run some more tests to be sure.
Between the frequent hospital stays, I still went to school. I remember having to leave class five minutes early to get to the next class before everyone else to avoid being bumped into, which would cause more bruising. Over the next few months, more blood tests were done and more transfusions received before the experts concluded that I had severe aplastic anemia and not myelodysplastic syndromes.
My doctors decided the best course of treatment would be a bone marrow transplant (BMT). They immediately tested my parents and siblings to see if any one of them were a match. My twin sister turned out to be a perfect match. Up until that test, my parents always thought we were fraternal twins, but DNA proved that we were actually identical twins.
Next, the doctors had to make sure that the severe aplastic anemia wasn’t from a genetic origin. If it was, they wouldn’t be able to use my sister’s bone marrow. Once they ruled this out, arrangements were made for a BMT at Mount Sinai Hospital. I was admitted on Easter Sunday and received aggressive chemotherapy and total body radiation to prepare for my BMT on April, 14th, 1999.
I was cured 17 years ago this month, thanks to my identical twin sister Meagan. We have this saying that we have been using since my transplant: “My sister, my best friend, I love you.” I will always be grateful for what she did for me. I am alive because of her generosity. On top of being alive, I am also married to my wonderful and supportive husband Justin. We have three beautiful “miracle” children. Our oldest is Caden, who is five, Justin is three and Alexandra is 1 year old. For years I cried over the strong possibility that I’ve never be able to conceive. I beat the odds not just once, but three times!
No one can say why I had this life threatening disease, but it made me part of who I am today, and I appreciate life and all the little things so much more.