My Relay journey began when my mother was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia in the fall of 2008. I was in 6th grade, so reality of the issue was not present. In the Summer leading up to my freshman year of high school, my parents traveled to M.D. Anderson in Texas for my mom to receive a bone marrow transplant, while my siblings and I remained in Georgia. After a few long months of treatments and a transplant, she left the #1 cancer center uncured, as her body rejected the donor.
For about 4 years following the transplant, she took oral chemo, chemo via injections into the abdomen (in which at times I had to administer), and spent days in and out of the hospital. By August 2016, things were still up in the air, and life was still a mystery for her. In October 2016, her transplant team told us they found a possible donor from Germany. Life felt so new.
We wasted no time. By December 2nd 2016, she received her bone marrow transplant. By mid-January 2017, she was pronounced cancer free after an 8-year battle. But, I guess someone out there thought that cancer was not enough. In between her receiving the transplant in December and her becoming cancer free in January, she was diagnosed with another disease called Graft Versus Host Disease. This completely took over her body, and still has to this day. It caused a body wide rash, her intestines to be shredded causing extraneous amounts of diarrhea, and a complete hold on our lives. She spent the Holidays in the hospital, although she was cancer free. That’s the thing… She was cancer free! Isn’t that what I wanted? It was.
What I did not want was the continuous suffering of my mother and my family. I felt the impact cancer had on all of us. Even though it is gone, the effects, such as the post-transplant chronic disease, are everlasting. I was commuting from my University in Athens, GA to Northside Hospital in Atlanta to spend nights with my mom. While doing so, my grades began to suffer and so did my personal health. My dad was spending nights at the hospital and then commuting to work the next morning, restless. Not to mention, that my siblings were almost in shock when they saw the pain my mom was feeling. Sacrifices were made, but cancer was beat! It is hard to explain the anger that lives within me. Cancer has fueled a fire in my soul that will not cease until this disease is gone. It has affected my family and I in the most negative way, and I am forever changed because of it. We can now face adversity as it is, and cancer is nothing but a word that will soon be unheard of.
I reflect on how far we’ve come as the American Cancer Society, and I reflect on how far we have come in the advancements of cancer treatment and research. Do you know why that is? It is because of people like ACS volunteers, who have the passion and HOPE for the future. We are in the midst of the movement of HOPE. I witnessed a diagnosis of 8 years. I witnessed 2 transplants, and I will attest to you that the 2nd was much different than the first. Not only was she cured, but there were so many more procedures, trial drugs, and treatments available than for the first transplant. I SAW all of the work we have put in pay off and the legend that the American Cancer Society continues to be.