Copyright © Gail Johnson, December 1998
In May of 1977 my grandmother died from cancer. It was my first experienceof losing someone very special in my life. I had vowed that if I were dyingfrom a fatal disease, I would keep silent like my grandmother so that Iwouldn't hurt anyone. You know what? God had other plans for me.
In January of 1985, I was diagnosed with strep throat. I had takenpenicillin orally and intravenously without any signs of it clearing.Finally I was called to go to the hospital to have some blood tests donebecause the blood that was taken a few days prior was not normal. At thattime, my dad was laid off from work and he was able to take me to thehospital to have the blood tests done.
On January 24, 1985 I was diagnosed with Acute Non-Lymphocytic Leukemia. Iwas 22 years old. It was my decision as to where and how I would betreated. I had chosen one of the top ten hospitals in the country.
My right tonsil was removed right away. I was immediately put on antibiotics for the strep throat and chemotherapy for the leukemia. The doctorshad informed my family that I was in a verycritical state and that I probably had been walking around with leukemia for some time. The doctors also informed my parents to get my sisters'blood tested in case I needed them to donate bone marrow. My journey had just begun.
My brain had shut down for nearly a month. I was told this was due to theantibiotics competing with the chemotherapy. Therefore, the doctors had tokeep switching the different types of medicines around in order to keep boththe bacteria and cancer cells dormant. I remember waking up close to amonth later. My mother was standing in my room and asked me if I knew whatday it was. As I looked at the calendar, I realized that it was February22, 1985. However, I could not respond due to being put on a respirator.
In March 1985 prior to being released from the hospital, I was given somebrochures on Bone Marrow Transplants. I was asked to consider it because itmight increase my chance of survival. I decided not to have the transplantbecause of the frightening complications. Also at that time my doctor encouraged me tohave another dose of chemotherapy in May 1985 to help keep the cancer inremission.
After the second set of chemotherapy I had been doing quite well. In October 1985I was able to be more independent. On October 17, 1985 I was able to takemyself to the doctor for a regular check up; I had been feeling better thanI'd felt all year. My doctor told me that my white blood count was alittle high and that I needed to have a bone marrow biopsy.
The biopsy showed that I was no longer in remission. My doctor asked me to consider having a bone marrow transplant. My sister Jennifer hadalready been considered as a perfectmatch. I had asked for more information along with explanations. After hesitating a while I'd decided to have the transplant.
As of October 31, 1998 I have been in remission for thirteen years. I was blessed with beautiful family and friends behind me. My doctor, theBMT Coordinators, the nurses, specialists, even the maintenance staff at the hospital were excellent. Like the movie "Patch Adams" featuringRobinWilliams, I believe that it doesn't hurt to have a little sense of humor every now and then. Laughter can be a part of therapy.
I found out a few years ago that all siblings are not perfect matches like my sister Jennifer and I. In August 1997 I achieved a life long dream. Ijoined African Americans Uniting for Life/National Marrow Donor Program as a volunteer.
Only God has the reason why He's left me here. I pray each day for my Faith to be strengthened so that I may be prepared for whatever He has instore. Fatal diseases have no prejudices.
At some time in our life we all may experience losing a loved one to a fatal disease. Please take time to educate one another on how you toomay give the "Living Gift of Life."
Register to be a Bone Marrow Donor by calling 1-800-MARROW2.
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