Staying Vigilant for Unsuspecting Symptoms Can Make All the Difference
- A mother of three learned she had acute myeloid leukemia (AML) after her children’s eagle-eyed pediatrician noticed discoloration on her skin. Tests further confirmed the cancer diagnosis.
- AML is a fast-growing blood cancer that begins in the bone marrow, the factory that makes white and red blood cells and platelets. AML symptoms may include fatigue, loss of appetite, flu-like symptoms, pale skin, and fever.
- AML treatment may include strong chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, which gives the patient healthy cells to replace the ones that chemotherapy may have killed.
- Not all people with AML are candidates for stem-cell transplants. Doctors evaluate each person’s individual risk potential to determine who is a candidate for one.
A mother of three is grateful for the watchful eye of her children’s pediatrician, who tipped her off that something was amiss with her health. After observing her hands and discolored skin, Laura Hendricks, 46, was desperately urged to see her doctor, where she learned she was facing an aggressive form of leukemia, a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
“I had all those feelings that probably every mom or parent can relate to having – a complete and utter fear of not being able to be their mom,” Hendricks said to “Today.”
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With her kids in mind, Hendricks was determined to do whatever was necessary to overcome her cancer battle.
Hendricks says she made an appointment with her children’s pediatrician after all three of them became ill. Once at the doctor’s office, Hendricks became the focus.
“I think I’m coming down with what they’re coming down with,” Hendricks said to the pediatrician, who asked how she was doing.
“She challenged me again and said, ‘No, your coloring doesn’t look right. Let me see your hands’…She looked at them and said, ‘I think you should have some bloodwork done,” Hendricks said.
Her test results revealed there was a problem with her white blood cell count then she got a call from her doctor.
“You need to go to the ER,” Hendricks recalled her doctor telling her.
“You need a blood transfusion…You have leukemia, and you have an aggressive form of it called acute myeloid leukemia (AML),” she said.
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a cancer that affects bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside of your bones. It’s a rare cancer overall, but it is the most common type of leukemia in adults.
WATCH: what happens during a bone marrow biopsy
“The whole world changed…That was extremely overwhelming,” Hendricks said after she was diagnosed with cancer.
Coping with a cancer diagnosis can be an extremely emotional experience.
“The patient or person going through the stressful event should accept that emotions will be fluid. It’s also important for those you look to for support, whether that’s a therapist, friends, and family, or both, to understand the fluidity of stress-related emotions,” psychiatrist Dr. Lori Plutchik tells SurvivorNet.
“I had that mentality that I was going to be a survivor. What rooted me to survival was my children and my husband, and my family. Truly, I wanted to be their mom for the rest of their lives,” Hendricks said.
Hendricks’s treatment involved spending seven months in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy, followed by a stem cell transplant.
After the stem cell transplant, Hendricks went into remission and has been in remission for five years so far. Her experience with cancer instilled within her a renewed sense of gratitude toward life and her loved ones. She’s since launched a non-profit to help cancer patients to help them throughout their journeys.
Helping You Understand Leukemia
- Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)–An Overview of Initial Treatment
- Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) — What Are The Symptoms?
- Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML): How Do I Make Treatment Decisions?
- Advancements in Treating Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)
- Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) is a Type of Myeloproliferative Neoplasm (MPN) What Are These?
Understanding Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)
Acute myeloid leukemia is a fast-growing blood cancer that begins in the bone marrow, the factory that makes white and red blood cells and platelets.
Within the bone marrow are stem cells that eventually develop into white blood cells (WBCs), red blood cells (RBCs), and platelets, which help blood to clot.
Stem cells can copy themselves to make progenitor cells or precursor cells. Myeloid progenitor cells turn into red blood cells, granulocytes (a type of white blood cell), and platelets. AML affects the myeloid progenitor cells during a stage of development when they are called myeloblasts.
With AML, myeloblasts fail to turn into fully developed blood cells, leaving them to build up in the bone marrow and blood.
WATCH: Learning the symptoms of AML.
AML is diagnosed by extracting samples of liquid bone marrow and a chip of bone from the back of the hip. The samples are then tested to determine if blood cells in the bone marrow are abnormal.
Dr. Gail Roboz, an AML expert and medical oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine, says, “The majority of patients have this sporadically out of the clear blue sky.”
Symptoms for acute myeloid leukemia can include:
- Frequent infections
- Feeling tired or weak
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Petechiae, which are blood spots under the skin
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
- Dull or sharp bone pain, usually in the legs and arms
- Pale skin
AML causes certain symptoms, but having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean that you have AML. Your doctor will do diagnostic tests to confirm whether you have AML before recommending a treatment.
Your doctor will then perform tests to diagnose you, and those tests include:
- Blood tests. In people with AML, white blood cell counts may be high, and red blood cell and platelet counts may be low. These tests can also show immature cells in the blood that should only be found in the bone marrow.
- Bone marrow biopsy. Removing and testing a sample of the bone marrow helps to confirm AML after an abnormal blood test result.
- Lumbar puncture. This test uses a sample of spinal fluid to diagnose AML.
- Molecular and genetic testing. Your doctor can do tests to determine whether you have certain genes related to AML and if your cancer might respond to specialized treatments.
The standard AML Treatment
For people deemed healthy enough, induction therapy is the standard treatment for AML. The process involves a seven-day chemotherapy regimen, followed by several weeks of recovery. The goal of this high dose of chemo is to induce remission.
A stem cell transplant is another option for treating AML, as Winsor opted to pursue. After a high dose of chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant gives the patient healthy cells to replace the ones that chemotherapy may have killed.
During a stem-cell transplant, healthy cells either from your own body (known as an autologous stem-cell transplant) or from a donor (known as an allogeneic stem-cell transplant) are injected into the blood in order to help your body produce the healthy cells and platelets it needs. In some cases, the cells come from the blood. In others, they come from the bone marrow, in which case the procedure is referred to as a bone marrow transplant, which is a type of stem-cell transplant.
WATCH: Understanding AML Stem Cell Transplant process.
After chemo and a transplant, the recovery process can be difficult because the immune system will be compromised. Finding a genetic match in a donor may also be difficult.