The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

An AYA’s Journey Through AML, Academia, and Advocacy

by Katelyn EdmonstonPatient, AMLApril 17, 2024View more posts from Katelyn Edmonston

At the young age of 21, just a few weeks into my first semester of grad school, life took a drastic turn. A diagnosis that no one expects—Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) with the FLT3 mutation. In the midst of textbooks and lectures, my world shifted to hospital rooms and treatment plans. The words “you have cancer” reverberated in my ears, altering the trajectory of my life. I was in the emergency room with a suspected medication reaction. What began as an anticipated brief visit extended unexpectedly, turning into a 42-day consecutive stay at the hospital. AML, an aggressive foe, demanded immediate attention—there was no time to waste.

The FLT3 mutation added a layer of complexity, and chemotherapy was started within 48 hours.

Despite the diagnosis, I found myself caught in a balancing act. The harsh reality of the American healthcare system dictated that I had to stay in school to retain my health insurance. Navigating the complexities of academia while battling cancer was a feat, but it became a testament to the resilience and strength that emerged in the face of adversity.

Three months later, a crucial milestone approached: the bone marrow transplant. A life-saving procedure that held the promise of a new beginning. The anticipation was palpable, a mix of anxiety and hope. Surrounded by the expertise of medical professionals, I embarked on this transformative journey. My donor was anonymous from Poland and I am forever grateful for the second chance at life he granted me.

As the storm of major treatment subsided, the sunlight of remission broke through. Only four months after my transplant, I was deemed cancer free. The battle is not over, but the worst is behind me. Now, maintenance chemotherapy is a routine, a means of fortifying the victory and ensuring that the cancer remains at bay.

With each passing day, strength has returned. I re-entered the workforce and dove back into my Master’s program full-time, a testament to the indomitable spirit that cancer could not break. The pursuit of knowledge and the rhythm of daily life became therapeutic, reaffirming the resilience of the human spirit. Now, back on the path to becoming an elementary school teacher, my journey has evolved into a narrative of hope and advocacy. Wherever my life goes, I will always continue to be a cancer research advocate. Having already engaged in advocacy work with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), I am committed to making a lasting impact and fostering change in the lives of those affected by these challenging conditions.

As I look back on the chapters of my AML journey, I see a narrative of strength, resilience, and triumph. Cancer may have disrupted my life, but it did not define it. From the confines of hospital walls to the bustling clinic visits, I’ve emerged stronger, more determined, and with an unwavering commitment to make a difference. The story is far from over; it’s evidence to the power of the human spirit and the possibilities that arise when we refuse to be defined by our challenges. I’m not just a survivor; I’m a voice for those affected by blood cancers. I will share my story and advocate for increased awareness and research in the fight against blood cancers.

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