Learning about Leukemia
- Venessa Taylor, a 54-year-old elementary school teacher who was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer six years ago, first dismissed her symptoms as a common cold, something her coworkers would often get being around children everyday.
- Leukemia is a type of blood cancer. Symptoms vary depending on the type of leukemia, but general symptoms for the disease include: Fever or chills, persistent fatigue, weakness, frequent or severe infections, losing weight without trying, swollen lymph nodes, an enlarged liver or spleen, easy bleeding or bruising, recurrent nosebleeds, tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae), excessive sweating as well as bone pain or tenderness.
- Like Taylor, who is now in remission and in search of a stem cell donor, many people find that spending time with loved ones, like their parents, partners, or children, is helpful during a cancer battle.
The grandmother, who retired from her job due to cancer, originally thought she was experiencing symptoms of the common cold. Now, she “wakes up every day feeling grateful” after undergoing 13 bone marrow biopsies, all revealing she’s in remission.Read More
Recounting how her treatments have gone, she explained, “[They] have been horrendous and long-lasting. I was told these side effects could take years to leave my body if they do at all. But, I am still alive.”
Following her first chemotherapy treatment, Taylor went into remission in May 2017. However, because she wasn’t able to find a stem cell donor, she had to undergo two more years of chemo.
“Neither myself, my family or my friends knew what had hit us. My family and I were completely shell-shocked,” she said. “At first, I was convinced the hospital had got it wrong and that they’d got the wrong person, that I didn’t really have leukemia.
“The most difficult part of being in hospital was being separated from my family, especially my youngest daughter and my two young grandsons,” Taylor continued. “My two eldest daughters literally moved into my hospital room, taking it in turns to stay with me overnight.”
Taylor stressed how her family means everything to her and that their support is what has given her “strength, courage and determination” throughout her cancer journey.
She has now become an advocate for leukemia and hopes to raise funds and spread awareness through the Spot Leukaemia Campaign.
Meanwhile, she has had difficulty finding a donor as none of her family members were a match and due to her ethnicity, she has a less than 20% chance of finding a candidate.
She said, “I was told in no uncertain terms that I would need a stem cell transplant to survive. As none was found, I was given an additional two years of chemotherapy.”
And although she is now treatment free and still in remission, a stem cell transplant is necessary to prevent the cancer from returning.
In an Instagram post shared by Taylor earlier this year, the grandmother wrote: “I don’t think anyone needs to die from blood cancers. I just think that people don’t know how easy it is to help people like myself to survive and have a second chance at life. Have you ever considered registering as a stem cell donor? The process is really simple… to begin with, it’s a simple saliva cheek swab and a few details on a form.”
Leukemia is a blood cancer that develops when the body produces large quantities of abnormal white blood cells. These cells prevent the bone marrow from producing any other type of cell including red blood cells and platelets.
“One cell got really selfish and decided that it needed to take up all the resources of everybody else, and, in doing so, took up space and energy from the rest of the body,” Dr. Nina Shah, a hematologist at University of California San Francisco, explained.
What Is A Blood Cancer? How Is It Different?
In a more general sense, blood cancer means that your bone marrow is not functioning properly.
“And when your bone marrow doesn’t function correctly, it means that you can have something happen to you like anemia,” she said. “Or you can have low platelets, which makes it possible for you to bleed easily. Or your immune system is not functioning correctly.”
Symptoms of leukemia can vary depending on the type of leukemia. Common signs and symptoms of the disease include:
- Fever or chills
- Persistent fatigue, weakness
- Frequent or severe infections
- Losing weight without trying
- Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
- Excessive sweating, especially at night
- Bone pain or tenderness
These signs and symptoms are not exclusive to leukemia, but if you notice them or any other changes to your health you should see your doctor promptly.
Related: Woman, 33, Blamed Her ‘Constant Tiredness’ On Working Too Much At Her Beauty Salon: It Turned Out To Be Cancer
Categories of Leukemia
Leukemia is different from other types of cancer because it is not just broken down into stages of severity but into different categories based on the cells that grow into cancer cells and how quickly those cells grow. Leukemia means that one type of white blood cell is growing out of proportion to the others and taking up the body’s resources. A leukemia patient’s bone marrow will become filled with these cancer cells, and that could result in anemia, abnormally low levels of platelets, and white blood cells failing to fight off infections.
Understanding The Different Types of Leukemia
There are four basic categories doctors use to identify the different types of leukemia.
- Acute leukemia grows very quickly.
- Chronic leukemia grows more slowly, over several years.
- Lymphoid leukemia grows from lymphoid cells, which produce antibodies and protect against viruses.
- Myeloid leukemia grows from myeloid cells, which is the body’s first defense against bacteria.
Supportive Family Through Cancer
Like Venessa Taylor, many people find that spending time with loved ones, like their parents, partners, or children, is helpful during a cancer battle. In an earlier interview, ovarian cancer survivor Beverly Reeves stresses how critical it is to have a supportive, loving community guiding you during your cancer battle.
Reeves tells SurvivorNet, “If I had one piece of advice for someone who had just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it would be to get a strong support group together. Get your close friends. If you’re connected to a faith community, get your faith community.”
“Get your family,” says Reeves. “Let them know what’s going on and let them help you. And sometimes that’s the most difficult thing to do, but just know that they are there. If they love you, they’re there to help you. And don’t be embarrassed.”
She continues, “Because this is a cancer that not a lot of people want to talk about. But it’s real and we need to talk about it, and we do need that help. So talk to your family and your friends and your faith community, and get that network together so they can support you and be there for you.”
‘Faith, Family, and Friends’ Helped Beverly Reeves Get Through Ovarian Cancer Treatment
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff
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