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AML, The Diagnosis – Surviving The Bubble

It was 1988, the year that changed everything.

I was a happy nine year old girl living in Las Vegas, Nevada with my parents and almost four year old brother, Aaron.  We had recently moved from our home in Henderson, and I missed my best friend desperately. Our parents decided that we could have a sleepover for New Years Eve. We had many fun plans, including lots of Barbie and Gem dolls and never expected that we would spend it in bed after I ended up sick. I shivered with a fever under three afghan blankets and watched Dick Clark ring in the New Year on TV. Our time was unfortunately cut short the next day.

I continued to have flu-like symptoms for the next week and a half including many, very painful leg cramps, fevers off and on and bruising. I had a particular bruise about the size of a sand dollar on my right thigh that I’d had for a few weeks. It was almost black, and the only thing I remembered doing was hitting the curved corner of my desk at school.

On January 12th, my family and I were all at home and my fever spiked to over 104, and my skin was getting pale so my mom decided to take me to the Urgent Care Center.  We spent the next four and a half hours waiting, getting tests done, waiting, and then waiting some more. By the time a doctor finally came into the small room to see us, he said very few words.

“We need to admit her to the hospital and run some more tests.”

The next morning brought the words no one expected, or wanted to hear. 

“Your daughter has Cancer. She has Leukemia.” The rest of that conversation was pretty much a blur to me. I’m sure my parents could tell a completely different side to that part of the story. I, however, only really heard the word, CANCER. 

“Why would God do this to me?” The question that continued to race through my thoughts all morning. I had no idea what I could have done to deserve to be punished like this.

The doctor told us that I had the rarest, adult form of Leukemia, known as Acute Myelocytic Leukemia. It was very rare for children to have this type of Leukemia and Las Vegas didn’t have a pediatric oncologist to treat me, so they were sending me to Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles for treatment. That morning was a whirlwind. Nurses and doctors in and out of the door and family……so much family. Crying and hugging and consoling and trying to say whatever they could to help in the situation. 

We were moved to Los Angeles within a few days and were given the first room to stay in for my first round of tests and surgery. It was this first week that gave the doctors a more clear vision of what treatment would be like and what to do. I had been diagnosed with AML, and the doctor’s said there was a 25% chance of survival for children that had this form. The only known cure at the time was a bone marrow transplant. They would first test family members and siblings to look for a possible donor, and if nothing panned out, we would go on the bone marrow transplant registry list and wait. 

That New Years Eve, 1988 turned out to be the beginning of the rest of my life as I knew it.