When I was told that I was in remission/cancer-free on January 17th, 2001 at the age of 16 years old I was so happy! I was diagnosed on December 12th, 2000 at the age of 15 years old just 1 month away from my sweet 16 birthday. I had been been given 3 weeks to live and a 5-15% chance of survival! After being released from the hospital, I had to take everything one step at a time. I knew after being told I was in full remission and cancer-free I was finally going home after having been in the hospital for 35 days! I was thrilled I was going to get to sleep in my own bed and be home with my family, but I knew I was going to have to come back in 18 days on my parents 17th wedding anniversary on February 5th, 2001. I knew that I would eventually have to go back in for a second round of Chemotherapy. I would be in the hospital for another 45 days. Then I was able to go home again and hopefully this time for good.
I had to repeatedly go back for bone marrow aspirations and biopsies (which I have now had thousands of), and would consistently get more bad news. My bone marrow was not growing back. It was supposed to start growing back within 30 days of treatment being complete. Even though I was home again, I had to go in to the outpatient clinic 4 to 5 days a week. I would be the first person to show up in the morning and the last person to leave at night, I would get blood and platelet transfusions, as well as antibiotics and procedures. During all this I was being home schooled by a tutor to try to catch up in school (I was a sophomore in high school when all of this was happening).
During the first year or two after I was in remission, I was terrified of having the cancer come back. I even made sure my mom took me to the local barbershop and had them buzz my hair (when it was starting to grow again) with the clippers. My fear was that if the cancer came back I would have to endure the trauma of losing it all over again. This was my life for about a year. I was told I was going to need a bone marrow transplant. After consulting with doctors at the Fred Hutchinson cancer research center, I was told that the best match they could find for me was a four out of six match. That was risky and dangerous. This meant another four to six months in the hospital, more Chemotherapy, plus radiation with less than a 50% chance of survival. After hearing all this I said I was done, I can’t do this anymore!
Shortly after that experience my bone marrow miraculously started to grow back. After being so anxious and stressed for so long, all I can remember was a feeling of relief. I remember when one of my doctors told me I was “done”, I left the hospital with my parents and collapsed in the parking lot crying with relief and joy.
The fear of the cancer returning has never gone away. I have checked off many of the things I was told I was never going to do. I returned to high school and graduated from high school, and I went to and graduated from college with an Associates Degree in General Studies. I got to have my dream wedding and married the man of my dreams. We have a house and a great dog and we have now been married for over 4 years and yet I still live in fear of the cancer relapsing. It may not be as intense as it once was, but it can be triggered at any time by the tiniest thing. It could be a dizzy spell, a strange pain or even just not feeling good.
The best thing that I can do is to absolutely live my life to the fullest even though I know the fear is always there. I can be afraid and do it anyway. I am proud to say that I will turn 33 years old on January 13th, 2018 and just 4 days later I will celebrate 17 years cancer free. I love the life I am living!
– Brittany, Acute Myelogenous Leukemia Survivor
This story was originally published by One Thousand Design as part of our collaboration to produce The Last Clean Scan – a documentary film about the complexities of life after cancer. If you or someone you know has been impacted by cancer please consider contributing to the project kickstarter campaign now through December 6.