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Hope, denial, anger, fear, and worry are words that come to mind when we think of the word cancer. Cancer is a word we never want to hear. I’m sure at some point in your life, everyone in here knows someone who has been affected by cancer. On September 19th of this year, not even a month ago, I did one of the hardest things I was ever faced to do… I attended one of my best friend’s funeral. Kali suffered from Leukemia since the young age of 10 and fought her battle until the age of 24. This topic is so dear to my heart because it was not until after she passed away that I found out exactly what she suffered from. So today, I would like to inform you about Leukemia’s symptoms, treatments, and who can be affected by it. So, what exactly is Leukemia and what are some symptoms to be aware of? Leukemia is characterized by an increase of abnormal white cells in the blood and bone marrow. In lamer terms, “Cancer of the blood cells.” If you have Leukemia, the first thing affected are your white blood cells that fight infections. If you have Leukemia, your white blood cell count becomes almost non-existent making it extremely difficult to fight any infection. A simple cold would feel like pneumonia to a Leukemia patient. Kali told me that her immune system was equal to a 6 month old baby. In addition to your white blood cells, your red blood cells are also affected.
Red blood cells help carry oxygen from your lungs throughout your entire body. If you lack red blood cells, you will most likely experience shortness of breath. This explains why at times Kali would speak very slowly in order to catch her breath. Lastly, your platelets are affected. Platelets help control bleeding and bruising on the body. When affected you are more likely to experience excessive bleeding and easily bruised. When the oncologist, a doctor that specializes in cancer, suspects that you have cancer he or she will question your symptoms. Common symptoms include fever, paleness of the skin, fatigue, pain in the bone and joints, weight loss, discomfort in the abdomen, and night sweats. Furthermore, the oncologist will perform a bone marrow biopsy. If the patient is not put to sleep, this procedure can be extremely painful. They take a 12 inch needle, stick it into your hip, and extract the bone marrow. The bone marrow is then tested to determine if you have Leukemia and what type of treatment is best for you. This brings me to my next point. Medicinenet states there are three major types of treatment: Chemotherapy, steroid therapy, and stem cell transplant. With the stem cell transplant, doctors use high dosages of chemotherapy and basically remove your entire immune system and replace it with someone else’s.
This person can be a related or unrelated donor. If it is a related donor, this person is usually someone very close to the patient such as a parent, sibling, or close relative. Kali was given the stem cell transplant and had new blood in her body. She informed me that her childhood vaccine shots were no longer in her bloodstream and she could not get them again because they could work against her in a negative way sort of putting her between a rock and a hard place. Like Kali, once a patients transplant is complete, they are given lots of medicine to help support the body and pain in hopes of preceding with a normal life. This brings me to my final point. Are you at risk? Can you be affected? According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma society, approximately every 3 minutes someone in the United States is diagnosed with a blood cancer and approximately every 10 minutes someone dies from a blood cancer. There were an estimated 310,000 people living with or in remission from Leukemia in the United States. In this year alone, roughly 52,000 people were diagnosed and 24,000 are expected to die- 14,000 males and 10,000 females.
While there is no known ways to prevent Leukemia, the National Cancer Institute states that developing Leukemia increases with several factors such as: smoking cigarettes and air pollution. Why should this be important and relevant to you? According to the Washington Post, Louisiana has been given the name “Cancer Alley” because of the 150 petrochemical companies and 17 refineries that line the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Baton Rouge releasing dangerous levels of toxins in the air we breathe in every day. We live in a state where cancer rates are to the roof. Leukemia is most frequent in Caucasian males than in any other population. Kali was an African American female. This lets me know, no one is susceptible. I’m sure after listening to me, you are more knowledgeable about Leukemia, its symptoms, treatments, and risks. Although it may not affect you directly, I encourage each and every one of you to get regular check-ups, stay healthy, and give to those who are affected. I’ll leave you with this quote by John F. Kennedy, “When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two components, one represents danger, the other represents opportunity.”