In December 2015, my family went to Albuquerque to celebrate Christmas. I had been feeling a bit fatigued, but figured I just needed time to recover from my hectic schedule.
But when I awoke from a nap with a bad taste, I discovered my mouth was filled with blood and clots lined my gum line. My dentist prescribed antibiotics, but my gums continued to bleed, and I started to notice bruises on my legs and hands.
At my mother’s urging, I went to the emergency room when I got back home. After an examination and blood test, I was admitted to the hospital, where I learned that I had acute promyelocytic leukemia, a subtype of acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
My acute promyelocytic leukemia treatment at MD Anderson
I started chemotherapy the night of my diagnosis. The disease, and getting used to chemo’s side effects, had me in and out of the ICU. I had pain in my mouth and constant fevers. After my fever spiked to 104 and kept rising one night, my doctor suggested I go to MD Anderson. My husband and I agreed, and the next day I was transferred there.
As I was wheeled out of the ambulance at MD Anderson, I felt at ease. I knew that I would be taken care of here. Under the care of Courtney DiNardo, M.D., and Jorge Cortes, M.D., I underwent a series of tests. I learned that I had an infection and a blood clot near my heart on my left arm where the PICC line resided. This was causing the fevers. If I hadn’t come to MD Anderson, a heart attack – rather than the leukemia – might have killed me.
After Drs. DiNardo and Cortes adjusted the doses of my chemotherapy and medications, I received a combination of arsenic, tretinion and daily shots of Lovenox for the blood clot near my heart.
I had some pretty rough days early on, and I don’t remember much from that time. But I do know that everyone at MD Anderson — from the people taking my vitals to the eight doctors who checked on me every morning during their rounds — was rooting me on.
During my month at MD Anderson, my weight dropped to 80 pounds, I lost all my hair, had little appetite and had to learn to walk again. A month after being admitted to MD Anderson, I was released from the hospital. A week later, a bone marrow biopsy showed I was in remission.
Becoming healthy again
With Dr. DiNardo’s permission, I returned home to San Antonio, where I continued daily chemotherapy treatments and lived a “normal life” with my husband and children. I took several medications that kept my magnesium and potassium levels normal during chemo, helped me sleep and aided with anti-anxiety, anti-nausea and more.
My husband gave me daily shots of Lovenox for the blood clot, cleaned and changed my PICC line dressing, and flushed the PICC line daily. My kids also learned to do this in case my husband wasn’t around.
My last round of chemotherapy was on September 23, and I took my last chemotherapy pill on October 9. I now return to MD Anderson for checkups every three months, and continue to show no signs of cancer.
Grateful and giving back
I am now deeply involved in raising leukemia awareness and fundraising for cancer research. In fact, I’m currently in the process of creating my own non-profit, which will support others fighting leukemia and fund cancer research at MD Anderson. Without MD Anderson’s cancer research, drugs and doctors, I would not be here.
The staff at MD Anderson were always kind, sincere, and so helpful and patient with me. Even when I had questions after I went home, they always got back to me through email that day.
MD Anderson will always hold a special place in my heart, and I wish I’d gone there as soon as I was diagnosed. But I’m just glad I went there when I did and count myself lucky that I got doctors who believed I could be cured.