Christina Law speaks about her experiences:
In February 2003, when I was 27 years old, I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). Before the diagnosis, I was feeling extremely fatigued. I couldn’t even get myself off the couch. I would bend down to pick something up on the floor and I couldn’t get myself back up. There were also a few mornings when I couldn’t see anything but a bright light through my left eye.
My family physician did various tests on me but to no avail. It was my eye specialist that eventually diagnosed me. Prior to this, the only thing I knew about leukemia was from a little book I read when I was in elementary. A book called “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes”. It’s a book that just stuck with me and I never forgot.
And so my journey began with one terrifying phone call. After numerous biopsies, lumbar punctures, and 3 rounds of high dose chemotherapy, I was in remission. A bone marrow transplant was not possible at the time because no donors could be found. Because I’m of Asian descent, it is much harder to find a good match. And so with no further treatment, I was discharged and went on living with a new perspective in life. Not taking the little things for granted.
However, it was just my luck. In April 2012, almost 10 years in remission, I was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS). During an annual visit to the doctor, she pointed out that my platelet level was lower than usual. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it because I felt better than I ever had. But the doctor ordered a biopsy and confirmed that I had another serious blood disorder. I was again, in a fight for my life again. This time a bone marrow transplant was the only thing that could save me.
After a few months of searching and waiting, they were able to find an unrelated donor for me. The donor was not a perfect match but it was good enough to allow for the transplant to go ahead. And so, in preparation for the transplant, I was given very high doses of chemotherapy and full body radiation twice a day for three days straight. It literally felt like pushing me to the brink of death and bringing me back to life.
Although it’s been over a year after my transplant, I still face many challenges. Even with all the intense treatments, the transplant was not 100% successful. At the moment I am taking chemo injections into the tummy to try to help the donor cells to graft on more. I am happy to say, the injections are helping things move in the right direction. With the current progress, the doctor decided to take it one step further and ordered a procedure called the Donor Leukocyte Infusion (DLI). It involves One Match to reactivate my donor after 1.5 years of the initial transplant and see if the donor is willing to donate more cells to me. It is my understanding that I am given a boost of immune cells from the donor’s blood. The T-cells from the donor not only can cause graftversushost disease (GVHD), but can also initiate an attack on my own bad cells that remain after the transplant back in August 2012. I am forever grateful and happy to report that the donor was willing to help me out a second time.
On April 3, 2014, fresh cells were flown in and the DLI procedure was done quickly through an IV line. Unfortunately the most recent bone marrow biopsy in late June showed that the DLI procedure did not achieve the desired result. In fact, the proportion of donor cells in my marrow has gone down and my own defective cells are regenerating. Furthermore, doctor reported there are more chromosome abnormalities in my own defective cells and that is what worries the doctor the most. At this point, the medical team at VGH has decided to continue with the chemo injections and is even scheduling a 2nd DLI to be done soon. Those are all in hope to prevent (or delay) things from getting worse. Meanwhile, the doctors have decided to pursue a 2nd bone marrow transplant although they do not expect this to be a cure but perhaps would prolong my life for couple or several years. Miracles do happen so we are hopeful that I will beat the odds and prove the doctors wrong.
Again thanks to the work by One Match, we have received some positive news that the renewed search for unrelated donors for me has turned up several potential donors. These donors may even be better matches than my original donor.
Despite all these hardships and another tough stretch ahead, I am thankful that there are again hopes for me with potential donors found. I cannot begin to imagine how even more excruciating it is for patients who cannot even find a single donor on the registry right now.
Christina’s blog can be found here: http://christinajourney.blogspot.ca/