In the fall of 2015, my little sister, Bree, started feeling off. She complained of lightheadedness and shortness of breath when climbing the stairs at school, she was sleeping all the time, and she was bruising easily. My mom and I texted behind her back, wishing she’d just go get bloodwork done, but knowing her major needle phobia would likely prevent that from happening. We figured she was suffering from hypothyroidism, as four generations of our family do, but Mom went so far as to whisper the “L” word, leukemia.
We continued to worry and text about Bree daily. One day she was at a local hospital doing observations for her radiology class, and she nearly fainted. Thankfully a close family friend is head of the radiology department at that hospital and immediately took her to the ER. She was transferred to another local hospital and admitted to the pediatric floor for days of testing, drugs, and no answers. We knew that her platelets were devastatingly low, and we assumed, as did her doctor, that she had ITP, a serious, but temporary condition. We tried everything to get her platelets to rise, including my making a frantic search for papaya juice because I read it was a natural cure for low platelets. The doctors in Lake Charles finally decided to do a bone marrow biopsy, and when we got back the results, they told us we had to go to Houston to MD Anderson right away. They said my sister wasn’t well enough to ride in a car, so she and my dad got in an ambulance with my mom and I following close behind. After nearly 20 hours in the MD Anderson emergency room, surrounded by people clinging to life, Bree was admitted to the leukemia ward.
There we continued to be terrified by words like “cancer” and “chemo.” We didn’t have answers for what was happening. The next day, Bree underwent another painful bone marrow biopsy and was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, a life-threatening and extremely rare bone marrow failure disorder. The only known cure for aplastic anemia is a bone marrow transplant, and as Bree’s only full sibling, my marrow was her best shot.
We immediately started the process of seeing whether my marrow was a match, and Bree underwent a four-day inpatient immunosuppressive therapy called ATG in the meantime. On about day three of the treatment, a doctor came in the room to check on Bree and casually mentioned that I wasn’t a match to donate my bone marrow. We were shocked and confused. This was the first time we were hearing this; it was from a doctor we didn’t know, and he mentioned it as casually as one would a reference to the weather. This was the first time I broke down and cried, feeling so helpless that I could not fix my sister.
As months went by, the transplant team continued to search the national database for a potential donor for Bree, and she underwent weekly transfusions and blood tests to try to keep the disease at bay in the meantime. Slowly her blood counts started to improve, and, six months after this nightmare began, she was declared in remission. More than three years later Bree is, miraculously, healthy, living a normal life, off all of her medications, and nearing the completion of her nursing degree.
I fear that if not for the world-class treatment Bree received at MD Anderson from Dr. Tapan Kadia, I would not have my little sister here today. When my favorite teacher in the world, Nicole Fontenot, asked me to participate in the St. Jude Marathon Weekend on her 5-Star Teachers Team, it was a no-brainer. Familiar with MD Anderson herself, Ms. Fontenot was a huge support for me during my sister’s sickness, offering tips on navigating the hospital and housing in Houston.
Finally, as a congenital heart defect survivor, running a 10K is a personal challenge for me. It’s double the distance I’ve ever run before, and my cardiologist recently advised me to challenge myself physically if I want to postpone the inevitable pulmonary valve replacement in my future.
For these reasons, it is my sincere hope that you will support my campaign for St. Jude. Any family facing the horror of childhood cancer should not have to endure the added burden of financial instability. Thank you!