Leukemia Can Strike Anyone, Anytime Vanessa Hood's Story
5/20/2015 1:45 PM
My Leukemia Journey
My name is Vanessa Hood and I want to share with you my experience being diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. Before I dive into the details surround being diagnosed. I’d like to share with you the connections I had to blood cancer before it became part of my life. My husband and I lived in Edwardsville,IL outside of St. Louis, MO. Scott’s grandfather was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia shortly after we had started dating in 2006. After Scott and I were married in 2010 my sister’s mother-in-law was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. My sister and I decided to raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in honor of her mother-in-law, Kathy and run the 2011 Wisconsin Half Marathon. I had so much fun training and fundraising; I decided to try out Team In Training, a program through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
In the midst of training, Scott and I decided we were going to move back to Wisconsin to be closer to family. I found a job quickly and needed to move before Scott could finish his job. My new job started the day after running the 2012 Go! St. Louis Half Marathon with TNT. I was nervous and excited to start a new job but also sad that my husband wasn't with me. Over the next couple months we were able to pack up our belongings and say goodbye to Edwardsville. We were staying in my parent’s condo temporarily, while hunting for our first home. We searched all spring and summer, finally finding the house we could make our own in August. We closed on that home in September and started doing updates.
It was during that time that I started to feel sick. It started tennis elbow and then lead to what I now know to be bone pain in my pelvis. It was so debilitating, unlike any pain I ever experience and no pain reliever worked. The pain somehow subsided but I had other symptoms over the next two weeks that made me think I had the flu: low grade fever, night sweats, itching, easy bruising, and side stabbing pain. The pain was on my left side in my ribcage, it woke me up one night and that morning as I was getting ready for work my vision blurred. I finally conceded and decided to go to the doctor. I was admitted in Kenosha, where our condo was that we were still staying in because our house wasn’t ready. I had so many blood tests, scans, and xrays. I was being followed by a G.I. doctor because they thought I might have a severe case of mono and a hematologist oncologist. My white blood count was very high, low platelets, and liver numbers that were off the charts. My spleen and liver were enlarged which was causing the side pain. My hospital stay was short from Tuesday till Friday but it was long enough that I had to miss standing up as the Matron of Honor in my best friend’s wedding. I was instructed that my labs were being sent out to CA to test for cancer and if anything resulted early they would give me a call.
Saturday morning, on October 13, 2012 at the age of 25, I was diagnosed with Philadelphia Positive Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. That doctor told me I was going to beat it and that I was in for a marathon not a sprint. At that moment, he gave me the choice of two nearby hospitals because I needed to be admitted and start chemotherapy the next day. As you can imagine, this was a shock, but there was little time to waste, as treatment started immediately. First, I went through four rounds of chemotherapy known as HYPER CVAD,achieving remission on November 3, 2012. I spent a month in the hospital fighting for my life as friends and family rallied around me. We had loved ones finish our updates in the house, move us out of the condo and into our new home. My new home and I knew where nothing was, such a trivial thing to worry about when fighting for your life, but it was something that was normal in this upside down roller-coaster I was strapped into and couldn’t escape.
My battling was just starting; as I got into remission I still knew I needed a bone marrow transplant to have the best odds. My sister wasn’t a match for me so the doctors searched the national registry, while I continued chemotherapy, admitted for a week at a time with 2 weeks to recover until they found a match. Right before Christmas, a match was found; my transplant was set for February 1, 2013. I tried to take each day at a time but it felt like I was being taken with the tide and I was trying to hang on for dear life. I grasped onto my family and God, as the doctors told me they were basically going to bring me to the brink of death and pull me back. The preconditioning for transplant included six sessions of Total Body Irradiation and additional high dose chemotherapy, to obliterate my own bone marrow before receiving an Allogeneic Myeloablative Unrelated Bone Marrow Transplant.
During transplant I spent 34 days in the hospital before I was released to continue recovering at home. At milestone 100 days post BMT, my bone marrow biopsy revealed a very small percentage of the PH+ chromosome. It was devastating to hear, but my transplant doctor assured me it was not a big deal. I was to restart an oral chemo I was on study for that targeted the chromosome. The next week I was retested and there was no evidence of it! It’s been a mountainous road but I am alive and living life to the fullest just over 2 years post-transplant.
WE are proud to share Vanessa's story. Hopefully this will give hope, inspire others to be pro-active in supporting BE THE MATCH, donate blood if possible. We at Lindsay's Voice and Trees of Hope Wisconsin won't give up until nobody has to hear the words " it's cancer".
Lindsay's Voice / Trees of Hope WI