A Cancer Survivor's Positivity as She Faces another Health Battle
- Elena DePaolo was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 2016. A year later, she was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease that has now progressed to stage 5 leading to a search for a compatible kidney transplant.
- ALL is an aggressive cancer and requires aggressive treatment.
- Despite her ongoing health struggles, DePaolo has found light in the darkest of times. A cancer battle, or any health struggle for that matter, can lead to a whole host of complex emotions. But holding onto hope in the face of adversity can be a really powerful way to get through the toughest of times.
DePaolo was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in April 2016. Following extensive amounts of chemotherapy and radiation and a stem cell transplant, she was diagnosed with stage 3 chronic kidney disease in 2017. And while it’s unknown what caused her kidney disease, it is possible that her treatment regimen is to blame. High-dose chemotherapy, for instance, can in some cases cause damage to organs such as your heart, lungs, liver or kidneys. That’s why your doctor will do a careful health assessment before treatment in order to make sure your organs can withstand this intense treatment.Read More
“Before we do [high-dose chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant], we need to understand if you could tolerate some weakening of your heart, should that happen, or of your lungs or kidneys,” Dr. Caitlin Costello, a hematologist/medical oncologist at UC San Diego Health, previously told SurvivorNet.
But rather than focus on the why of DePaolo’s diagnosis, DePaolo and her husband looked to the future. They still wanted to start a family despite the heartbreaking news.
“I basically walked right out of cancer with kidney disease,” DePaolo said. “It wasn’t to the point where it was bad enough to the point where doctors told me I couldn’t try and get pregnant.”
DePaolo gave birth to their daughter in 2019, but she didn’t survive. If that wasn’t enough, she also found out her kidney disease had progressed to stage 4. Then, at 28 years old, she decided to try another route to motherhood by adopting Lorenzo who’s now almost 2.
“I used to think I was cursed that I couldn’t have my own kids, but it’s because (Lorenzo) was waiting for me,” DePaolo said.
She’s happily raising her beautiful boy alongside her husband, but the mother from Niagara Falls, New York, has since been told her kidney disease moved to stage 5 within the past year. Now, she’s in desperate need of a kidney transplant.
“Finding a donor would mean the absolute world to me and my family,” DePaolo said. “I’ll get that healthy kidney that I need to live my life and raise my son along side my husband. Raising my son is the most important thing to me… I have so much left in life to do with him and his dad. I would be so insanely grateful to find a match and for whoever that person may be.”
DePaolo needs an O+/- or A+/- donor to replace her kidney. She’s recently come close to finding a transplant, but no donor has been quite the right match yet. Still, she remains hopeful for the sake of her son and his “contagious” laugh.
“‘Mama’ was actually (Lorenzo’s) first word,” DePaolo said. “Ten years from now, my son is going to be almost 12, and I want to be a part of his life. I want to be a part of all the good things he goes through and that he experiences.”
If you’re interested in donating, contact Erie County Medical Center at 716-898-5001 or email [email protected]
Understanding Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, or ALL, is a type of leukemia where the bone marrow makes too many immature lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 5,690 new cases of ALL will be diagnosed in the United States in 2021. The ACS also reports that the risk for developing ALL is highest in children younger than 5 years of age, with a slow decline in risk until the mid-20s. Then, the risk slowly rises again after age 50.
Dr. Olalekan Oluwole, a hematologist with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, previously talked with SurvivorNet about ALL’s effect on the body and the type of treatments that work to fight it.
“ALL is a type of cancer that is very aggressive,” Dr. Oluwole told SurvivorNet. “It grows very fast. Within a few weeks, a few months, the person will start to feel very sick. And that’s why we will have to give it an equally aggressive type of treatment to break that cycle.”
Dr. Oluwole also says the leukemia often resides in the bone marrow, and because it is an abnormal growth, it just keeps dividing.
“It doesn’t follow rules, and it doesn’t stop,” he told SurvivorNet. “Not only that, because this is part of the immune system, the immune system is sorta like the police of the body. So those abnormal cells that have now become cancer, they have the ability to go to many places. They go into the blood, and they often go into the tissue or the lining around the brain.”
Staying Positive during a Health Battle
DePaolo has faced the harsh realities of battle with both cancer and chronic kidney disease. But despite everything she’s gone through and continues to go through today, she’s shown that there are still ways to look for light in the darkest of times. For DePaolo, it’s her son Lorenzo who’s been a huge source of positivity during her health struggles.
“Lorenzo has changed my life. He saved me in so many ways,” DePaolo said. “When I feel sad and he just looks at me and goes ‘mama,’ and points at me and smiles. How does that not just fill your heart with joy?”
At SurvivorNet, we get to share many stories of positivity and resilience because there’s no shortage of brave cancer warriors holding onto hope in the face of adversity.
Danielle Ripley-Burgess, a two-time colon cancer survivor, is another resilient cancer survivor like DePaolo. She was first diagnosed with colon cancer in high school and proceeded to beat the disease not once, but twice. Understandably so, Ripley-Burgess has had to work through a lot of complex emotions that came with her cancer journey. Even still, she’s always managed to look at life with a positive attitude.
“As I’ve worked through the complex emotions of cancer, I’ve uncovered some beautiful things: Wisdom. Love. Life purpose. Priorities,” she previously told SurvivorNet. “I carry a very real sense that life is short, and I’m grateful to be living it! This has made me optimistic. Optimism doesn’t mean that fear, pain and division don’t exist – they do. Our world is full of negativity, judgment, and hate. Optimism means that I believe there’s always good to be found despite the bad, and this is what my life is centered around.”
She moves through life with a sense of purpose unique to someone who’s been faced with the darkest of times. Happily in remission today, she’s determined to, one day, leave the world better than she found it.
“We can choose to stay positive, treat others with respect and look for the light in spite of the darkness,” she said. “This type of attitude and behavior will lead to the kind of legacies I believe all of us hope to leave.”