Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Big D Climb: Meet Alex Agnor

November is a time when people pause to count their blessings.  The Big D Climb staff and participants are doing the same.  Today we would like to introduce you to Alex Agnor.  Not only is she a longtime Big D Climb participant, a Big D Climb committee member and an Honored Hero for the event, but she is also a survivor.  Today she talks about how thankful she is for being able to fulfill all of these roles.

"November 5, 2014 marked a very special day in my cancer survivorship journey.  As I was watching the election results roll in the night before, it suddenly hit me.  Ten years ago to the day, I (like the rest of the country) watched as the presidential election results were coming in state by state, with the US map lit up in an array of red and blue.

With the news in the background, I was perusing my list of symptoms on WebMD, trying to piece together what might be wrong with me.  Knots in the back of my head, recurring rash on legs, lack of energy… what could it be?...Infection, lupus, lymphoma, leukemia…?  Meanwhile, WHO would it be? Bush? Kerry?  I went to bed that night without any answers, but hopeful for the future.

The next morning, November 5, 2004, my first stop was the Texas Tech University medical clinic for follow-up blood work.  For the past three weeks, I visited the clinic frequently, complaining of my symptoms.  I was initially treated with antibiotics for what was thought to be a bacterial infection.  My initial blood results in October were slightly abnormal, and additional testing was recommended since I was not responding to the antibiotics.

I left the clinic that morning, somehow, more concerned than anything else with the election results and where I could grab a bite of breakfast before class.  Sonic it was, and I sat in my car listening to talk radio while enjoying a breakfast toaster sandwich.  I remember talking to my mom, who was more on pins and needles than I was, and telling her that I should have the results in a couple of days. Or so I thought…

Around 5:00 that evening as I was getting out of class, I realized that I missed a call from the clinic.  I hurriedly listened to the voicemail and couldn't make heads or tails of the medical jargon being used, but it was clear that they wanted me to return right away.  Shocked, scared, confused…I can’t pinpoint the emotion and, quite frankly, it is a bit of a blur. 

I made it back to the clinic; it felt like Groundhog’s Day.  I was immediately called into an exam room.  The doctor, along with several nurses, slowly entered.  Why are all these people here?  The doctor explained that I needed to be referred to a hematologist for further testing – my white and red blood cell counts, among other things, were far outside of the normal range.  He said I needed to be tested for lymphoma.  The nurses looked at me comfortingly, yet with sad eyes, awaiting my reaction.

Honestly, I didn't know how to react.  Even with all of my WebMD research, I hadn’t picked up on the fact that lymphoma was a cancer.  (To this day, I am ashamed to admit that.)  Seeing that I wasn’t having an emotional outburst, one of the nurses called me into her office to help schedule my appointment with the hematologist.  The first available opening happened to fall on an exam day, and anyone who knows me, won’t be surprised to hear that I attempted to push back this appointment to be sure I could make my exam.  It was at this point that the nurse must have realized how clueless I truly was.

But then, in an instant, my naiveté was gone.  I looked down at my chart and read upside down “R/O Leukemia or Lymphoma.”  Leukemia???  I knew what leukemia was; I knew it was cancer.  Images of the children from St. Jude commercials immediately clouded my vision.  My eyes welled up with tears; my heart pounded; every part of my body shook.  The next thing I knew, the doctor walked into the office.  In the haze that was November 5, 2004, I can somehow vividly remember looking at him with tears in my eyes and a frog in my throat asking “Is this something serious?”  Like any doctor would, he tried comforting me and explained that we needed to rule everything out (hence R/O; another new term for me).  The haze took over.  I honestly can’t tell you if an appointment with a hematologist was made or not, but I just knew I needed to get out of there.  I am sure I called my mom immediately and in hysterics. 

Buses were no longer running on campus, so I started the long haul to my car, alone and in shambles.  Luckily, and quite miraculously, my little sis from my sorority just happened to be driving through campus and stopped to help me.  She had no idea what she was driving up on, but she listened and tried reassuring me as she took me safely to my car.

Over the next few days, I loaded up my life as I knew it—a worry-free, 20 year old junior at Texas Tech – and became a blood cancer patient.  Just like that, I went from living in an apartment with my best friend to sharing a small hospital room with my mom. It was surreal to say the least.

Three rounds of chemo between November and March would prepare me for the bone marrow transplant from an unrelated, international donor on March 18, 2005 that would ultimately save my life.  I am so thankful to my donor, Henrik, for giving me the most invaluable gift—a second chance.

After all that I have been through, I am so glad that November 5, 2014 stopped me in my tracks and gave me time to reflect.  That day marked the first day in my year of TEN!  I will soon be ten years cancer free, and I can’t think of anything better to be thankful for this year.  I wouldn't be where I am today, had I not lost my naiveté, been forced to grow up far too fast, and fought a battle with cancer that far too many have to face.  But honestly, I wouldn't change it for the world.

My survivorship journey has led me here, to write this blog for LLS and the Big D Climb, in hopes that my story will inspire you to get involved to help LLS realize its mission of finding a cure for blood cancer.  Someday is Today!  It is my battle with leukemia, and the battles of countless others, that motivate me to reach the top every year at the Big D Climb.  It is fitting that we have a few more flights to climb this year—I will cherish each extra step because they push me closer to the big TEN. On March 18, 2015, I will be 10 years cancer free.  I climb for LLS in the hope of helping others reach this same milestone.  I am forever grateful to LLS for allowing me the opportunity to give back.

My name is Alex Agnor, and I am a leukemia survivor.  "

Inspired by Alex's story?  Honor her fight and join her at the Big D Climb by registering today.

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