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Friday, April 22, 2011

Break Cancer: My Young Adult Cancer Experience


As a 23 year cancer survivor, sometimes I am asked how I found out that I had cancer. So today I'd like to share that story with you.


The Fall of 1987

September

My September that year started out like it had for the past four years. I was returning back to my undergraduate studies at UCLA. Only this was my senior year and the pressure was on to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life once I graduated with my Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology.

Then I got sick with some viral infection. To be honest, I can't quite remember if it was a stomach bug or some kind of a cold. What I do remember is that I didn't quite feel fully recovered from it once most of the symptoms had resolved. I kept going back to Student Health complaining that I wasn't feeling better.

October

By Halloween I still wasn't feeling 100% better, so I sought out a referral to a good general practice doctor in the vicinity of campus. I was able to see a regular doctor because at age 22 I was still on both of my parents' health insurance policies. After listening to my symptoms, completing an examination and taking some blood, this new doctor thought I was experiencing some kind of post-viral syndrome. He also mentioned that my white blood cell count was a little on the low side, but opted for a wait-and-see treatment approach.

November

I spent the month, and the Thanksgiving holiday, staying home from classes, taking it easy, getting extra rest and following up with my new doctor.

December

With no improvement, I started feeling frustrated. So I contacted my pediatrician in the San Fernando Valley and made an appointment to see him. Then I head to Santa Monica to get my records from the doctor there and discovered that it wasn't just my white blood cell count that was low--my red blood cell count was low too.

It felt weird being the oldest patient sitting in the waiting room of my pediatrician's office reading a copy of Highlights magazine, but I trusted that my pediatrician could figure out what was wrong with me. I hadn't seen him in over four years, so we spent a little time catching up before getting down to business. When all was said and done, he wanted to wait just a little bit longer to see if my counts would come back up on their own.

So I spent the week of Christmas 1987 and the week of New Year's 1988 trying my hardest to get better.

The Winter of 1988

January

I headed back to see my pediatrician the Monday after the New Year's. More blood was taken at that appointment and I received a call a few days later with the results. I learned that instead of improving, my blood counts have gotten worse, with my white blood cell count now at 0.9. (For reference, the normal range of the white blood cell count is 4.3 to 10.8 x 109 cells per liter in international units (IU).) The next words out of my pediatrician's mouth were, "I'm setting up an appointment for you to see a hematologist here in my building for later this week."

After three months of waiting, things started happening very quickly.

I saw the hematologist on Thursday and he scheduled a bone marrow biopsy for the next day. The following Wednesday I returned for the results of my biopsy and was told that I had leukemia. I was offered the option to start treatment at the community hospital a few blocks away from the hematologist's office, but I decided I wanted to go to UCLA for a second opinion and treatment. My parents drove me from that morning appointment straight to UCLA for an afternoon appointment in the Bowyer Oncology Clinic. By 5 PM I had been admitted into the hospital.

The View from 2011

I can see today that some of the early warning signs of my cancer had been missed by the doctors treating me back in 1987. Clearly my diagnosis of leukemia was delayed; fortunately for me my diagnosis didn't come too late. I was also incredibly fortunate to have my parents' medical insurance and I truly believe that participating in a clinical trial at UCLA increased my chances for becoming a cancer survivor.

It saddens me to learn that the survival rate for young adults with cancer has remained the same over the past 30 years. Since 1988, I thought there had been numerous advances in cancer early detection and treatment. Quite frankly, I expected that my diagnosis story would have been ancient history by now, not current events. We all have heard that early detection and early treatment of cancer yields a much better prognosis. I think it's about time young adults benefited from this reality.

This is why I am asking you today to help me Break Cancer.

I dare you: leave me a comment on this blog post. Help me set a record for the "Most Comments Received on a Cancer-Related Blog Post in 24 Hours." Together let's raise awareness about the issues facing young adults diagnosed with cancer today. Together, let's Break Cancer!


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108 comments

Robert said...

Go sweetie! Break Cancer! I am so proud of you.

Cynthia said...

What an amazing story of survival! You are an inspiration! Kudos to you for your efforts to break cancer! XOXO~Cyn

Cynthia said...

Next, can we do the "most hugs to break cancer"? :) There ar a lot of cool things on the website! I can't believe the survival rate hasn't changed! this will help raise awareness for sure! Xoxo.....again.....Cyn

julie riddle said...

You inspire me in so many ways. I can honestly say that my journey has been made so much easier by your guidance, support and humor. Be proud of yourself for making a difference every single day. Here's to 40 more years of friendship!

Laurie said...

Selena, you are a true inspiration.There is no stopping you and I am so proud to know you. My son's friend, in third grade, had childhood cancer and luckily he was fine. I remember my son and 4 other friends shaved their heads together so their friend wouldn't be alone. Congratultions on this effort!!! Let's all start to break Cancer.

Laurie said...

p.s. can we add multiple comments? My url is http://hibernationnow.wordpress.com

BuddhaCanvas said...

Break cancer, stomp it into bits and keep kicking ass!

K Pugliano said...

So glad that your diagnosis finally came, and that treatment was successful! I hope you get a gazillion comments today!!
Good luck!
http://momgotblog.com
http://blogitforwardnow.com

FibroCathy said...

What a unique way to raise awareness for a cause that you are passionate about. My daughter's first boyfriend had leukemia at the age of 6 and was treated for 2 years and has now been cancer free for over 15 years. It's heart-warming to hear the success stories. But you know what would be even better? To never get cancer at all. You're helping to achieve that goal with your inspiration and drive to bring awareness to young adult cancers. Good on ya, Selena.

Anonymous said...

Selena, it is such an honor for me to take part in this unique way to help break cancer. Like you, I was diagnosed with cancer young .... at age 27. I too, was misdiagnosed at first. I was just leaving a relationship after 11 months of dating. The first doctor actually told me that if I had a good man, I would not be experiencing symptoms. Luckily, my next doctor cared enough to listen. I am alive today because of it :)

Anonymous said...

Been there myself. Still having problems. Keep up awareness for survivors of all ages.
Stuart

Anonymous said...

Stay strong...

Jennifer's Genuine Crochet Creations said...

God Bless You Selena. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Knytrose said...

Wanted to make sure I got to your blog to leave a comment in support, so I left the page up on my computer all night so I didn't get busy and forget!

Thanks for sharing your story. You go girl!!

chris coppock said...

What a wonderful display of courage and will. God Bless you.

Anonymous said...

Awareness Saves lives = You go!

ChronicBabe said...

you are so awesome, selena! telling your personal story and breaking this record means you're really informing and inspiring people. go, you! i'm proud to call you my friend! xo jenni

missyk99 said...

I was 14 when I was diagnosed with bone cancer, that was 27 years ago, it was a long journey with many battles along the way, thank you for working to help raise the awareness!

Helena said...

You are an inspiration Selena! God bless you for continuing the fight for others!

Helena

Rachel said...

It is so important that you share your story - and I am so glad to help you today.

Chrissygirl39 said...

Good luck to you and thanks ahead of time!!!

Headstrong said...

Thank you for sharing your amazing story. YOU are amazing, Selena.
Headstrong

Anonymous said...

Your story echoes my story... I am a 35 year veteran of childhood cancer as well. We share many similarities in our current realities of being healthy folks with a lot of serious chronic challenges, known and unknown.

I hope you BREAK the record and raise awareness in the process...

phylor said...

Good luck, Selena. I hope you break the record in your efforts to raise awareness!

BreakCancer said...

What an inspiring story! You are a great example for young adults out there who are currently, or will have to battle cancer. Thanks you so much Selena for getting involved with the Break Cancer initiative! We truly appreciate it! Can't wait to see how many comments get posted!

To see all the other great records, visit: http://breakcancer.co

To set your own Break Cancer record, visit: http://brkca.co/howto

Follow us on Twitter: http://twitter.com/breakcancer
Like us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/breakcancer

Anonymous said...

You are such a brave and intelligent lady! Break that @&$!@ Cancer!

Krista said...

Great post, thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

You have such an inspiring story and I'm glad you have shared your story and are BREAKING CANCER. I agree with you that it's sad that the survival rates for young adults have not improved, but what you're are doing is making a difference and raising awareness. Thanks for kicking cancer's butt on Good Friday. This just made my Friday even better.

Best,
Michelle from UCLA Healthy Lives After Cancer program

Joni said...

Its so disheartening to read that little has changed in survival rates over such a period of time.

Kudos to you for bringing awareness to this cause!

sunshineandchaos said...

Thank you for sharing your story.It saddens me too that the survival rate hasn't changed.I hope this helps bring awareness and that more young adults will get themselves checked out when they know that "something" isn't quite right.


Maureen

(Sorry if this gets posted twice but I wasn't as awake as I thought and didn't click publish the first time.)

Anonymous said...

You're an inspiration to us young adults fighting cancer. =)

Sonja said...

Love you girl! Thanks for sharing your story, getting the word out, and being such a strong supporter for all of us in the chronic illness realm!

Sonja

Erin said...

My husband is also a cancer survivor. He is the love of my life and I am so grateful every day that he was able to beat it. I want to help you 'break cancer'. I want a cure to be something possible in our lifetimes!

Anonymous said...

Selena,you are my hero! Continue your blogging and raising awareness of early detection!

nancyhayward said...

My 14 year old son was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma 6 months ago.
www.jackehayward@blogspot.com

Selena, thank you for keeping awareness on young adults and for being such a wonderful role model. God Bless You.

Awareness Gift Boutique said...

You are such an inspiration, Selena! Your passion for advocating awareness and making a difference shines through in all you do!

Migrainista said...

This really is an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing with us. You really are an inspiration.

ashpauls said...

OMG I knew you had cancer before, but it's so sad how long it took to be caught even when good evidence of it was shown during the first blood work! Thank GOD you are here today, but I couldn't even begin to understand the mental and physical turmoil it must have smacked you with to get that news :( *big hugs*

DoodleBug27 said...

Way to go girl!

Anonymous said...

Cancer Sucks.

Anonymous said...

xx

Arthur said...

Selena, Your blog and presence is an inspiration to us all. Here is to hoping we Break Cancer soon
Art R

Anonymous said...

Dear Selena,

Our best wishes are with you!!!!

Sincerely,
April Ann & Debbie

phylor said...

Good luck! Hope you break cancer with these drive.

Nicole said...

You are an inspiration. Best of luck!

Sue said...

Thank you for sharing your story. Cancer is such a complex disease that takes many forms. It's in our best interest to continue the research for cures and prevention. Blessings to you....

Mona said...

God Bless you ! You are an inspiration and I pray for you <3

Anonymous said...

Break Cancer. Your are a strong women!

Jill said...

You're an inspiration, Selena!! Keep fighting, keep spreading the word, keep thinking positive! Hopefully, one day the world will be rid of cancer in all forms, so that we never have to deal with it again. Many blessings to you.

Ben said...

My heart goes out to all suffering from this indiscriminate disease. You are an inspiration!! I pray every day for a cure!

Anonymous said...

God Bless You C: Keep up the fight C: Together we need to BREAK CANCER...cuz'...CANCER SUCKS!

Anonymous said...

Keep "fighting like a girl" god bless you dear :)

Anonymous said...

Your story is inspiring!! I am also a cancer survivor and I love your idea on "most comments" received. Hugs and Love to you and a cure for cancer!!

Anonymous said...

Break cancer! You go girl!

Anonymous said...

Fighting cancer myself, I know you can do this! Good luck!

Pati said...

So glad you are a survivor! Keep up the fight! I am a 4 year breast cancer survivor... Break cancer woo-Hoo!

aimeemariered said...

What a wonderful cause! You are amazing. I'm glad to be able to do my little part. =)

Anonymous said...

Selena i am glad to see that you survied cancer.Because so many people every day don't get the chance to survie this terrible thing called cancer.I hope that someday they will finally find a cure to heal all.Be strong and never give up or stop fighting.

Anonymous said...

What an inspiring story! Keep up the fight!

Anonymous said...

Wow I just finished treatments for breast cancer- We all gotta keep fighting the fight. STAY STRONG

Mary said...

I am a two time cancer survivor. Breast Cancer at 38, then Lymphoma at 45. It took a year to have the lymphoma diagnosed. I would participate in any effort that may help increase awareness of Physcians, and early diagnosis. They all need to learn how to LISTEN to their patients....

Anonymous said...

Cancer survivor here. Lets do what we can to get rid of this crap!

Anonymous said...

This is an amazing story. You are an inspiration to us all

Fibro said...

I have 2 sisters who are cancer survivors, breast and cervical cancer. This is truly an amazing story. God Bless.

LunaTechChick said...

BREAK CANCER! I'm breaking cancer too! Love from a sister-survivor. <3

http://lunatechchick.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Go Selena and know that a whole lot of people are with you!!!

Anonymous said...

As someone who has lost her dearest & best friend of 37 years to Cancer & as a woman who has to go for another biopsy for a rare form of Cancer all I can say is I am glad you are Here and Well. Thankyou .

Anonymous said...

I was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (aml) 19 years ago. It has been quite an experience. Nothing can prepare you for the diagnose of cancer. I love what you are doing! Thank you!

Tim Allen said...

I only started reading on Monday and i found this blog only by accident but its really nice.
Good luck on the record!

Anonymous said...

Hallelujah! My sister is also 35 years cancer free from Hodgkins disease. i am the younger sister and this was a very hard time a family. So glad tghere are people like you that are fighting to Break Cancer and knock it to its feet, it needs to just go away...Keep living and keep smiling and thank you for this chance to voice my thoughts and care to you and so many others afflicted...

Felicia Fibro said...

Great story, although your diagnosis was delayed, you never gave up trying to get a diagnosis. If you had, who knows when the doctors finally would've caught it?!

I'm glad I can help support you in your Break Cancer event!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing.

SR said...

You are truly an inspiration!

SouthernGirl said...

Thank you for sharing!

mickeystaley said...

I really wish you well, you sweet thing! You are quite right about the cancers in young people have not gotten better or easier to detect, what is going on? This has to change and now, not tomorrow, NOW!!!!!! Mickey Staley

Alex said...

Thanks for sharing your story; it is a lovely and well-written post. I'm sure it will be an inspiration to many others, just as you are to so many spoonies.

Take care, and I hope this helps with the Break Cancer cause! xoxo

Jennifer said...

What a great idea to raise awareness! Thank you so much for sharing your story. I'm a 4 year cancer survivor...awareness is key!!

Anonymous said...

Wow Selena, I never knew that story. I'm so glad that you are telling it and raising awareness! Thank you, Sharon

Linda Johnson said...

Dear Selena:

Yu are an inspiration for so many to keep your head up and keep on going! Your an amazing lady!

Love,
Linda

Sharon Stevens said...

Wow, that's sad to have cancer so young. But it's good that you could still use your parents' insurance.

We really need to break cancer for everyone. It takes too many special and precious lives too soon.
Good Luck
Sharon

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your story, and for spreading cancer awareness. I'm 45 and fighting breast cancer. I just started chemo last week. Fight like a girl!!!

Anonymous said...

So scary to think what would have happened had you not been persistent. What about the other young people who just don't have the tenacity to keep seeking an answer?

jkhewett said...

Together we can kick cancer's ass!!!

Amy said...

So great to see read a success story of someone that had to deal with this at such a young age. I still fight my fight but I hope that one day 20yrs from now I can tell my story:)

Anonymous said...

Another one to help your cause! I so enjoy your blog :)

Leticia said...

Thanks for sharing your story and promoting Awareness!!!! We are a minority group in most cancer setting so sticky together and uniting it vitial!

Liz Hall said...

So happy to participate in your awesome Break Cancer Awareness, Selena!! Thank you so much for sharing your story bravely! You are an inspiration for so many & I feel honored to know you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story!

Anonymous said...

Awareness is vital - Break Cancer!!

Cassie said...

So glad I found your blog- it was like reading how I feel! Thanks for sharing, BREAK cancer!

Anonymous said...

Great way to raise awareness and spark conversations.
Good luck to you!
Mary N.

Kim said...

Selena, you rock! My brother in law lost his battle with leukemia and my father is halfway through his radiation for tongue and jaw cancer! Cancer sucks! Thank you for being such an inspiration!

mlscapeccia said...

We need to abolish cancer in everyone but most especially in children! I am praying for all who are suffering with cancers and illness! Selena I am praying for you to fight this! God bless strong people like you!

Anonymous said...

Love what you're doing! Good luck!

Lynn said...

Thanks for sharing your story! We've got to Beat Cancer!

Aviva said...

I love what you're doing here!

Drew said...

Good luck with what you're doing to Beat Cancer!

Tony said...

Thank you for making a difference in the fight against cancer!

Seth said...

Cancer needs to go bye-bye. Thanks for helping make it happen.

Seren Du said...

It never ceases to amaze me the bravery & resolve some people have to survive & do good in this world. You are truly insprirational.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your story and raising awareness. Break Cancer!!

Anonymous said...

Raising awareness of cancer so important well done Selena x

Chrissy Conner said...

Selena - sending you so much positive energy and prayers....you are a hero to so many! You go, go, go girl. We all love you...you're such an inspiration!!
We're all with you...you are never alone...huge "love" club...way better than "fan" club!

Anonymous said...

What an important message - so grateful you are here to share it with us.

Break Cancer!

Mike C. said...

Keep doing what you're doing. It's important and it's so good for all of us. Inspiring. Have a joyous Easter!

Anonymous said...

You go, Honey, kick that cancer in the butt! I just lost a family member to multiple myeloma. She tried sooo hard to break it & did for a few months. So, yes, BREAK IT, Girl! You are, I'm sure, the light at the end of many a tunnel that helps to keep others going, as well as yourself. :-)

HealingWell said...

Awesome post! I'm late but I'm so glad you are raising awareness for this important cause.

Jessica said...

Let's kick some cancer ass! =)