Friday, May 3, 2013

Mother's Day Profile: Britt Hemsell

Life is perfect! This was my perspective at age 34, married to the man of my dreams, enjoying our beautiful baby boy (22mo.), and praying about having another one. In February of 2004, I went in for a routine physical feeling great having just lost all the baby weight. My doctor visit went well and I was sent on my way with a clean bill of health. Yay! The next day my physician called and expressed some concern that my white count was a bit high at 25,000. It looked like I might be fighting an infection and should start on antibiotics. Little did I know, this was just the beginning of what was yet to come.

A few days later, I was back in my physician’s office getting more blood drawn for more tests. Still taking antibiotics, my white count had increased a little up to 27,000. I still felt fantastic. What could be wrong? She was determined to figure out what was going on. So, after a week worth of testing and more blood drawls, she sent a blood sample for a second opinion, along with doing a few more tests herself. Sitting in my physician’s office for the fourth time in the past 10 days was a bit unsettling. We discussed the results from my tests, all were negative. The second opinion’s results were a different story. I was told that he saw an "abnormality in some of my blood cells", mentioned the word myelodysplasia, and that he would like to see me.

I waited till 5:30p.m. that evening to call, thinking that I would hear back the next day to set an appointment in the next month or so. They called back 10 minutes later to come in that Thursday to visit with a hematologist/oncologist. They had been expecting my call. Chills ran up my spine. Never has a doctor’s office called back and scheduled an appointment so quickly. It was at this point that I realized that whatever was going on with me just might be serious and started researching. Words like myeloproliferative and pre-cancers like myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) popped up. I don’t even know how to spell this stuff! Ok, whatever this is, surely it’s not cancer. I’m too healthy. I’m too young!

Thursday’s appointment couldn’t come quick enough. I want to know I’m ok and get back to my perfect life. The appointment proved to be anything but. It was confirmed abnormal blood cells present and a high white count. To help figure out what is really going on, a bone marrow biopsy was needed. During my biopsy I finally broke down and realized that this was serious and all really happening. I was scared. A week later it was time for the results. It was this visit, on March 19, 2004, that I learned I have a cancer called Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML). Diagnosis date is a date every cancer patient remembers. Thankfully my husband had come with me to share the blow to our lives. I was numb. I needed to start a new type of oral chemotherapy called Gleevec right away, as 100% of my cells tested positive for CML. Before this targeted therapy became available, it was stem cell transplantation and maximum five year prognosis. Getting pregnant was now out of the question due to the impact the chemo would have on the baby. I also needed to see a Bone Marrow Transplant specialist and get typed for a possible stem cell transplant as a backup. What??!! My perfect world had just come crashing down. My life would never be the same.

I started on 400mg Gleevec daily that evening. I am so blessed to have loving family, friends, and church that helped out, as the next three months proved to be physically and mentally challenging. Nausea, fatigue, bone and joint pain, anemia all took their turn as the chemo worked to eradicate the cancer cells from my body. Hungry for information to help make better informed decisions and learn how to adjust, I read and researched, and learned everything I could about CML. This is how I came to learn more about The Leukemia Society (LLS) and what they had to offer. They had the most up-to-date information regarding CML and treatment with Gleevec. The LLS helped fund the research that made Gleevec a reality. I was able to talk and get reassurance from another mom with CML through their First Connection Program. LLS sponsored local support groups for blood cancer patients provided me with a much needed outlet of support, understanding, and encouragement at a level that my family and friends could not provide or understand. Instead, my family and friends were able to rally and support me through the Light the Night campaign.

Fast forward nine years. I’m happy to say, "I’m still alive and thriving!" I thank God, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the researchers, my oncology team, family, and all the wonderful people that helped me get through those tough times, and who continue to support me though the ups and downs of living as a survivor with CML. My now 11 year old son continues to be my biggest source of inspiration and encouragement. He has always helped me be brave since the beginning. As you can imagine, the past nine years have changed my life in profound ways. It is my hope and prayer that a cure will be found in my lifetime. I strive to give back and help others going through the shock of a cancer diagnosis. While I no longer consider my life to be perfect, it’s a new kind of perfect because of the people in it, the richer and deeper relationships, and cherishing each day as a wife, mother, and survivor.

Britt Hemsell
9 yr. CML Survivor

If you would like to take time to honor a mother, like Britt, in your life please consider making a donation to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society this Mother's Day.

Make a donation online
and a letter of recognition of your gift will be sent to the mother you are honoring with your donation. You are also welcome to mail in a donation to: LLS, Attn: Mother's Day, 8111 LBJ Fwy., Ste 425, Dallas, TX 75251.

Thank you and Happy Mother's Day from the North Texas Chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

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