To the Editor:
I am writing to thank our wonderful community for helping me and my family through one of the most challenging years of my life. In February of 2012 I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, and this incredible community we live in wrapped its arms around me and supported my family and me every step of the way. I am extremely grateful and I am feeling well.
The leukemia diagnosis came out of the blue. I’d never really felt sick, just tired and occasionally dizzy. An anemia test showed otherwise and my terrific doctor, Mary Catherine DeRosa, sent me immediately to Miriam Hospital and had lab results waiting at the ER when I arrived. The doctors, nurses and staff were excellent, compassionate and caring. As an overnight stay morphed into a month of treatment, then several weeklong stays to follow up, they treated not only my illness but checked in on my entire family and offered information and reassurance. Treatment gave me the biggest physical challenge I’ve ever faced, but the staff watched over me and supported me through it. The nurses there were truly my “angels in scrubs.” The doctors were excellent.
Through it all, cards, letters and Facebook posts poured in, offering prayers and encouragement. Friends and neighbors showed up with casseroles when I was too weak to cook and brought meals for my boys when I was in the hospital. They even cleaned my house before my homecoming.
Friends and strangers donated blood when my body couldn’t make enough of its own. If you’ve ever donated blood, please know it is an amazing gift. A transfusion is restorative. It helps the recipient feel better almost immediately and takes away the dizziness, shortness of breath and exhaustion that accompany a low blood count.
When it became clear that chemotherapy alone couldn’t save me, my wonderful doctor, Jorge Castillo, recommended a stem cell transplant at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. But first we needed a donor match, and the Warwick Fire Fighters Soccer Club, with Stephanie and Ray Meunier at the helm, was there to help. They held a fundraiser to help with medical costs and they teamed up with “Be the Match” to hold a bone marrow drive to try to find a donor who could provide life-saving stem cells for me. Hundreds of people lined up to try to help – friends, neighbors, strangers, young adults who had played in my yard when they were children, teachers and Boy Scout leaders. My daughter’s entire soccer team made the trip from Lesley University in Cambridge and all registered to be potential donors. It was an incredible feeling to know so many were willing to give so much of themselves.
Eventually a donor was found who could save my life, and I was sent to Dana Farber, where my own immune system was destroyed with chemotherapy to make way for the stem cells that would create a new and healthier immune system. The care I received was world class. The doctors, nurses and staff were exceptional. We are so lucky to have such excellent care here in Rhode Island and close by in Boston.
A year out, I feel well and continue to gain strength. I feel blessed to be here and blessed to live in this wonderful community. Cancer can be an isolating walk to take, but I never walked alone. So many people stepped forward to help, and I will be forever grateful.