Heather was a vibrant, beautiful young woman just beginning her life when two forms of blood cancer attacked her body. She noticed a lymph node under her chin begin to swell in October, 2007. She was 19 years old, worked and was a full time student. Over the Christmas holidays she began to lose weight and have extreme exhaustion. We thought she had mono. Heather also began to have an itchy rash that would appear as the day went on.
The end of January, 2008 Heather had a blood test and an ultrasound of her liver and spleen. Everything was normal. She began to have a tickle in her throat that would keep her awake most of the night as her tonsils were blood red and swollen very large. We did not know at the time, but they had lymphoma in them and had hemorrhaged.
After many doctor appointments we finally arrived at an Ears, Nose and Throat doctor who ordered a CT scan. He told us this was nothing to worry about but I felt he knew this was very serious. The day of the scan we received a call just a couple of hours later telling us Heather needed a needle biopsy.
A needle biopsy was done on April 4, 2008. The ENT doctor called that following Tuesday and told us it was cancer and that he had made us appointment with a Hematologist/Oncologist for Thursday, April 10, 2008. He told me he was really sorry and to let him know if he could do anything else for me.
Heather had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia with Non-Hodgkin’s T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. Both are very fast moving, aggressive blood cancers. She was admitted to the hospital that night to begin testing and chemo treatments.
Heather sailed through 8 rounds of HYPER CVAD chemo and 8 spinal chemo’s and finished in September, 2008. She began the 24 month maintenance chemo. The maintenance part is actually the hardest portion as the body is so weakened from all the chemo that has had nothing left to fight with.
In February, 2009 Heather became immune compromised. She also began to have some problems with her breathing. On March 15th, 2009 we were told that Heather had developed Methotrexate toxicity. She was relieved to have an answer because she had been thinking that her cancer was back.
Thursday, March 19th, 2009 Heather began running a 105°F temperature and was immediately rushed to the hospital and admitted. After several days of testing it was determined that she had Pneumocystis Pneumonia, Gram Positive Pneumonia and Influenza-A (not swine flu). Because of the Pneumocystis pneumonia she had developed ARDS-Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome-which meant her lung were severely damaged and were becoming stiff.
Heather was rushed to ICU on Sunday, March 22nd, 2009. Fight as she might she was placed on a vent on Saturday, March 28th, 2009. During the next few weeks Heather’s lungs did not improve. They became stiffer and because of the forced air from the ventilator she began to blow holes in her lungs. Several chest tubes were placed in her to fight her collapsed lungs and our family spent many nights wondering if she would survive. It was the roller coaster ride from hell.
Heather died on Monday, April 20th, 2009 and this is where my journey as a grieving mother began.