I didn’t feel ill when I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The only reason I went to the doctor in the first place was because I’d finally started a full-time job with benefits after graduating from college, and I figured I’d take advantage of my health insurance and get a physical exam for the first time in years.
The actual physical was what you’d expect and took hardly any time at all. I gave a vial of blood for the routine bloodwork and met up with a friend afterwards to stuff my face with unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks after fasting all morning. I went home with generic instructions to not eat too much junk food and try and exercise a bit every day – basically the same things every doctor tells every patient.
My unexpected AML diagnosis
I did not expect to get a call from my doctor’s office in the middle of holiday shopping with my in-laws. “Your white blood cell count is high, though it can go up if you’re fighting off an infection,” the nurse told me. She asked if I was feeling OK. I felt normal, so she told me to come back and have my blood drawn again. Maybe the lab had made a mistake.
They hadn’t. Within a few days, I got another call from my primary care physician. She’d put in a referral for me to see one of the hematologists at her clinic.
After a quick visit with her and a couple of tests, my husband got the call with my AML diagnosis – less than two weeks after my physical. I had my first appointment at MD Anderson’s Leukemia Center at 7:30 the next morning.
I was in denial. How could I possibly have cancer if I didn’t feel like I did? But I was glad that if I had to go see a specialist, I was lucky enough to live 20 minutes away from one of the best cancer centers in the world.
Enduring AML treatment with few side effects
When I was learning more about AML in the first few days with my oncologist, Elias Jabbour, M.D., and his team, I’d asked if we’d caught it early. Dr. Jabbour said there wasn’t really a good way of knowing that, but because I didn’t have any other health issues, I had a good chance of getting through my chemo treatments without many other problems.
It felt weird to start chemo without feeling sick. All of the tests clearly showed that I had leukemia, but I didn’t feel any different than normal.
When I was in the hospital for my first round of chemo, it was a bit surreal. I wasn’t really experiencing any side effects, such as nausea and fatigue. Except for the IV in my arm, I felt completely fine. My hair didn’t fall out immediately. You would have never guessed I was a cancer patient if you didn’t know.
Get your routine physical on time
Now that I’ve completed my AML treatment, I’m so grateful that I took the time to get a physical even though I felt perfectly fine. My rounds of chemo before my bone marrow transplant were pretty uneventful, and I rarely felt sick, which is more than most people can say. Who’s to know how I would have felt if I’d not found out about my cancer when I did?
People talk about not wanting to go to the doctor because they’re worried about what they’ll find. But wouldn’t you be more worried about NOT finding something and leaving it to get worse?
I never found myself waking up and saying, “I really want to go get chemo today.” But as I’ve said to anyone who will listen, I’m really glad that my doctors found my cancer when they did. Make sure you get your routine checkups on time!
AML is one of the cancers MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about our AML/MDS Moon Shot.