Hello, my name is Paige, and in October 2015, my life changed. Earlier that month, I got my annual flu shot, and when I went home, I started to feel ill. I thought I was having an allergic reaction to the flu shot and waited the recommended three days to follow up with my physician. After the three days, I went to see my primary care physician, and everything looked fine. A EKG showed normal heart activity, but the physician recommended that I go to the ER to get a heart scan performed since my heart rate was continually elevated.
While waiting for the heart scan technician to come to my ER room, a nurse took a few vials of blood. Instead of a technician coming back, the ER doctor came in and said I had leukemia.
He could not tell me what type of leukemia I had or anything that could be comforting. Instead, I was told that an ambulance was on its way to take me to a Denver hospital that specialized in blood cancers. I was 28 years old when I learned that I had leukemia in the ER room. Once I arrived at the Denver hospital, I was placed in ICU and had 28 vials of blood drawn, a bone marrow biopsy performed, a PICC line placed in my arm, and began oral chemotherapy. Later that night, I was officially diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
I spent October through December 2015 going in and out of the hospital undergoing various oral, IV, and spinal injection chemotherapies to achieve remission. After my third month of chemotherapy, I finally was in remission. However, there was a strong likelihood that I would relapse due to an MLL rearrangement, a DNA abnormality in the leukemic cells. Our team of doctors wanted to pursue an allogeneic stem cell transplant. I needed a donor to have a stem cell transplant, and my sister was not a match to donate. We turned our hearts and prayers to the national and international donor registry, hoping they would have a match.
We had exactly one match, a 21-year-old male living somewhere in the United States. He did not hesitate to donate as I had my stem cell transplant within a month of finding out he agreed to save my life and cure my blood cancer. My transplant was not an easy journey as I underwent high dosages of chemotherapy and eight rounds of total body radiation to prepare for it. I had my life-saving stem cell transplant in January 2016. Following the transplant, I was further diagnosed with Stages 3 and 4 graft versus host disease in my small intestines and colon. This meant that my donor cells were attacking my body. It took about nine months to to recover from the stem cell transplant and graft versus host disease. During my recovery, my body weight dropped to 77 pounds, and I had a feeding tube placed. In total, I was hospitalized for 121 days.
I am currently 17 months post-transplant, and I live a normal life. I have decided to devote my time to helping other young adults facing cancer, and I volunteer at the hospital where I was treated and for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.