June 24, 2021
Leukemia survivor: Why I joined a clinical trial
BY Ashley Snider
I am a bit of a hypochondriac, so I’ve diagnosed myself with cancer on more than one occasion. But I never believed it would actually happen – much less with acute myeloid leukemia at age 35.
When I started getting headaches and feeling dizzy and extremely tired in December 2018, I initially chalked it up to motherhood. At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom to an almost-3-year-old daughter and a 7-month-old son. And that’s tiring work.
But when I also developed a rash and welts on my legs, I finally went to see a doctor. It’s a good thing I did, too, because if I’d waited much longer, it might have been too late. Those symptoms turned out to be erythema nodosum, an inflammation of the fatty layer of the skin. It can be caused by a number of things, including the same bacteria that causes strep throat and several types of medication. In my case, it was caused by cancer.
My leukemia diagnosis
As the mother of two small children, I resolved to fight the disease early on. My family immediately started researching the best cancer centers. MD Anderson’s name came up in every search.
As it turns out, my local oncologist completed her oncology fellowship training there. And while she felt confident that her team in Charlotte, North Carolina could provide me with excellent care, she also said that MD Anderson was “as good as it gets,” so she understood if I wanted to go there instead.
My local oncologist is a really outstanding doctor, so I felt if I went to the place where she was trained, I would be giving myself the best possible shot at beating leukemia. My husband and I were on an airplane headed for Houston within four days.
Genetic mutation makes clinical trial my best option
At MD Anderson, I met first with leukemia specialist Dr. Farhad Ravandi. He recommended additional rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a stem cell transplant under Dr. Gheath Al-Atrash.
Because I have a genetic mutation called FLT3, my doctors also recommended a clinical trial for a targeted therapy drug called gilteritinib. They both felt strongly that the standard-of-care chemotherapy would not be suitable for me.
I felt going on a clinical trial would give me the best possible odds of beating leukemia. I also viewed it as a way to help future leukemia patients. So, I joined the trial and had my stem cell transplant on Jan. 5, 2019. I’ve been in remission since January 2020.
Why I’ll keep returning to MD Anderson for my check-ups
I am two years out from my stem cell transplant now, but my hair is still thin and patchy. It’s a small price to pay, though, in my opinion. It’s just hair. I am alive and healthy, and to me, that’s all that matters.
I’ll continue to take the targeted therapy drug indefinitely, unless it stops working. And I’ll keep returning to MD Anderson for my checkups, because it truly is a magical place. The day I arrived at MD Anderson, I was very, very sick. But the young man who took me to my first scan mentioned that he loved to sing. I asked him to sing something for me. And he sang the most beautiful melody as we rolled down the unfamiliar hallways. He had the voice of an angel. That was my very first encounter with one of the staff at MD Anderson, and I was just blown away. It felt like I was at Disneyland, but for cancer.
Today, I’m convinced that not only is MD Anderson the world’s leading hospital in cancer research and treatment, it’s also the best at providing spiritual nourishment and hope. From its strikethrough cancer logo, to its large rooms filled with natural light, to its tuxedo-wearing food service team that delivers every meal on a platter, MD Anderson has figured out how to make its patients feel as positive as possible, during what will likely be the most difficult time of their lives.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
It felt like I was at Disneyland, but for cancer.