This week, a local anchorwoman died of complications from leukemia. She was diagnosed on Tuesday and was dead Thursday night. Two days. That was it. She had been working as scheduled up until the day she called 911 for a worsening bladder infection, with severe pain and nausea. Then she got the devastating news she had leukemia. The next day she needed emergency brain surgery, and never woke up. She was 29 years old. Vibrant. Professional. Animal lover. Upbeat.
You can search: Jeannie Hayes, WREX-TV 13, Rockford, IL and get more of the media reports.
Of course my first thoughts were with her family, friends, and coworkers. They had no time to really register what was going on. One day, she was working, the next day she finds out she has cancer, and on the second day she died. Scary stuff. I’m sure they’re still in somewhat of a state of shock. Her viewing was today at a local church. A week ago, their lives were ‘normal’. They had no warning.
As a leukemia survivor (also with acute myelocytic leukemia, subtype M3, or acute promyelocytic leukemia), it hits really close to home. I don’t know what subtype Jeannie had. I found out about mine through a standard CBC (complete blood count) that was part of my annual diabetic assessment. My lab work was BAD. As an RN since 1985, I didn’t necessarily know what flavor of ‘bad’ I had, but I knew it wasn’t good- I had a bit of warning. I had been scheduled for a bone marrow biopsy, but didn’t make it to that appointment before the shortness of breath led me to a 911 call. I have a history of blood clots in my lungs, and have been told to always get anything ‘funky’ checked out. I knew what my lab work looked like. And I knew that the shortness of breath was likely due to anemia. But I never know…
So, I’m in the ER for hours (crazy night there), and got admitted when the doc told me she didn’t know what was going on, but my labs had dropped by half in a couple of weeks (there wasn’t much room for them to drop). She was really concerned. The next morning I met my oncologist and within 10 minutes they were doing the bone marrow biopsy. The morning after that, I got the diagnosis, was moved to a room in an area set aside for those who must have as minimal exposure to infection as possible, and started on chemotherapy pills. I also got a PICC line inserted, even though my platelets were horrible; I had to have vein access for the IV chemo that started the following day. I soon developed purpura on my legs and abdomen (tiny purple hemorrhages from low platelets)… not a good sign. Thirteen units of packed red blood cells (blood transfusion) and twelve units of platelets were needed during my stay… THANK YOU, blood donors.
Had I not gone for the annual diabetic lab work, I wouldn’t have lived. My oncologist told me that I was in really bad shape. He called it ‘dead sick’ in his Iranian accent. And I remember being too sick to care what they were doing. I had some infections set in, and was on vancomycin and gentamycin for about 5 weeks. For those who know what those are, they know that they’re strong antibiotics. I also was given 2 ‘protective’ eye drop antibiotics and steroids. The ear infection and cellulitis into my neck and jaw were pretty bad. The ENT doc had to pry my ear open to put in a ‘wick’ for the ear antibiotic drops to seep into- there was no opening in my right ear from the swelling. None…it was ‘slammed’ shut with edema and infection. The ENT also had to suck out the pus from my ear. My temp was over 103. For someone with no immune system to speak of, that’s not good. I got very lucky.
If I hadn’t had that routine CBC, I wouldn’t have gotten any follow up, or known what was going on. I’m so used to having something go wrong medically, I blow off a lot. Note to self: don’t blow stuff off. My ‘vision’ of my demise is me just going to bed, and not waking up. My dad may have found out I was dead after not hearing from me for a couple of days. I hate to think if he would have come over and used his key to get in, finding me on his own… and my dog wandering around confused (we talk nearly daily as ‘attendance checks’- he’s 80 years old, and I’m a train wreck- we try to keep track of each other).
I’m so grateful I found out in time to get help. I’m expected to be OK. I went into remission during that first 6 weeks in the hospital (April-part of May, 2010). In April 2015, pending no relapses, I will be considered cured. I’m one of the lucky ones. It was hell going through chemotherapy for 19 months, including 50 doses of arsenic infusions (IV), and 11 months of tretinoin, methotrexate, and M6mercaptopurine. My body went through a lot. But, I got a chance to live. APL is one of the most curable forms of leukemia, when it’s detected and treatment started immediately.
How I wish Jeannie would have had that same chance. Even ‘just’ a chance to say goodbye, and have some time to do what she needed to do before ‘just’ not being here anymore. I wish that for everyone. IF someone ends up with cancer (or anything terminal), I wish them the chance to see their loved ones and for them all to have the opportunity to let go of each other, hard as that is. I wish them the chance to ‘finish’ things. My understanding via the tribute on her news channel (WREX-TV 13), is that her family got there when she was in a coma after the emergency brain surgery. They came as fast as they could, but the cancer was faster.
I later read that the average time someone lives without treatment after the onset of the disease (with minimal symptoms) is 30 days. Many people are diagnosed at autopsy. The biggest ‘tip’ I could give anybody- if you feel something isn’t right, get it checked until you get an answer that makes sense. Not everybody can be fixed. But everybody deserves a chance.
For everyone else, it’s probably a good idea to know what you want to say to people, and do it. Get things put together. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.
EDIT- 11/21/2012- Today, WREX gave info about the specific type of leukemia that Jeannie Hayes had. She had acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). This is the same type of leukemia I had- and makes it even more sad, since it’s one of the most curable when it’s caught in time. Like Jeannie, I had no specific symptoms to suspect cancer. I had routine lab work done. Jeannie had the bladder infection, and it was ‘caught’ when she went to the ER for that. I also had some bleeding issues- but was in the hospital, and because I was already being treated, I was able to recover. My thoughts and prayers go out to Jeannie’s family and friends. There was no time to say goodbye. ❤