May 22, 2014
Receiving an AML diagnosis while pregnant: A survivor looks back
BY Kellie Bramlet
Seven months into her pregnancy with her second child, Melissa DeLeon was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
Several weeks before her diagnosis, she had begun experiencing AML symptoms. She was dizzy and nauseous. She bruised easily, had lost all appetite and was often tired. She went to her doctor for blood work. After the test, the doctor handed her a large, sealed envelope and told her to go to the address on the envelope.
Melissa headed to the address: a nearby oncology center.
"I was so naïve that I drove home and told my mom they had sent me to the wrong place," she says.
Together, Melissa and her mother returned to the center, where she received her AML diagnosis. She underwent a bone marrow biopsy, but that was all the hospital could do for her. The idea of treating a pregnant AML patient was beyond their experience, Melissa says.
Coming to MD Anderson for AML treatment
In the end, Melissa was glad the first oncologist couldn't perform her AML treatment. That brought her to MD Anderson.
Melissa noticed that MD Anderson was different from other hospitals as soon as she arrived, she says.
"Once you walk in there, you just feel so welcome," she says. "It really was an amazing experience. I felt at ease."
Despite Melissa's being pregnant with cancer, doctors at MD Anderson reassured her that she would be fine.
But the day before Melissa's chemotherapy was scheduled to begin, she went into labor. She was rushed to another hospital, where she gave birth to a baby boy. He was two months early, weighed 3 pounds, but was otherwise healthy.
Two days later, Melissa was transferred back to MD Anderson to begin her chemotherapy. The biggest challenge the new mother faced was being separated from her baby boy. Her son was placed in the neonatal intensive care unit, and Melissa had to be kept in isolation.
"That was the biggest heartache," she says. "It was just like an emotional roller coaster."
But on Easter Sunday of that year, eight weeks after her son, Luis, was born, Melissa was able to reach out and touch his hand for the first time.
"It was the gift I had been waiting for so long," she says.
Life after AML treatment
Today, Melissa is cancer-free, and Luis is a happy, healthy 7-year-old and an older brother to two siblings.
"I kept fighting," she says. "And with the amazing doctors at MD Anderson, everything is possible."
Melissa still returns to MD Anderson every six months for her follow-up appointments, but she's glad that the most frightening moments of her cancer journey are well behind her.
"Being able to be a mother after cancer means the world to me," she says. "I feel very blessed for all the things that have happened to me. It all happened for a reason and has made me a stronger person."
With the amazing doctors at MD Anderson, anything is possible.