Hola, amigos! For this post, I will stray a bit from my regular topics to tell you about something that has deeply affected and touched my life. Last January, my sister Diana was diagnosed with ALL- acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and hers is a battle that needs to be shared. Keep reading the story of a ruthless enemy, a courageous warrior, and unconditional love.
The silent enemy
My sister Diana has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, or ALL. This is a type of cancer in the blood, and it’s so aggressive that it can be fatal within only a few months. In all types of leukemia, cancer cells invade the bone marrow, which is where blood cells are produced. Usually, symptoms include feeling weak and tired, shortness of breath, frequent and severe bleeding, bruising, fever, repeated infections, weight loss, night sweats, and loss of appetite. Diana had all of those.
You would think that something as terrible as ALL would be easy to identify, but it wasn’t. Diana started feeling sick, and no one could figure out what was wrong with her. Over the course of several months, as she wasted away before our eyes, Diana had to turn to several specialists before she was finally diagnosed with ALL. By then, she was literally at death’s door- she could no longer stand up or eat, she was frighteningly thin, and she suffered constant chills and fever. Her blood was 75% cancer cells. It was a nightmare.
I can’t tell you exactly how it happened, but Diana managed to get accepted into the General Hospital of Mexico (HGM). This is one of the best and largest hospitals in all of Latin America, and it’s funded by Mexico’s Ministry of Health. It treats patients that don’t have access to medical insurance, such as freelance, self-employed people like Diana. However, acceptance is not easy. There’s a long waiting list for patients, so it was nothing short of a miracle that she was accepted on her first try. I shudder to think what would have happened if she hadn’t.
Facing the storm
Once there, Diana started treatment. First, she was treated for the infections that were ravaging her, and weeks later, she started chemotherapy. I’m not going to lie, chemo is almost as bad as the disease. It’s like drinking poison, or like dropping a nuke on your body. It kills cancer cells, but it also destroys everything in its path. Chemo takes out the cells that line the digestive tract and the mouth, the cells in hair follicles and the body’s defenses. Diana also had to struggle through several chemo-induced infections, and she lost all her beautiful, bluish black hair.
After spending almost six months in the hospital, it seemed like chemotherapy was not working like the doctors had hoped. They decided to give Diana a break. She was discharged in the hope that being at home for a while would make her feel more rested and keep her away from hospital infections. The day she finally came home, she looked like a shadow of her former self, but she was determined to take her life back.
Honestly, it is amazing how Diana has bounced back. She has many friends, and they started visiting her often. She put on a trendy wig. She started eating healthy and tried alternative remedies, like turmeric golden milk. She resumed her work, teaching English and Spanish online. I know there’s been days when she feels very scared and depressed, but she always has a big, bright smile on her face when I see her.
Last week, three months after Diana was discharged from the hospital, she got her most recent lab results. It was another miracle! It turns out she is now in remission, free of cancer cells! The doctors were very suprised, they had not expected this at all. Now, she is eligible for a bone marrow transplant, which would rid her of the disease. Soon she’ll start getting ready for the final battle. Only siblings can be donors, so our younger sister and I will undergo testing to see if we are compatible. Keep your fingers crossed!
Honestly, there is another person who deserves the credit for this victory. My mom has been with my sister all this time. She was there on the first day Diana started feeling sick, and she held Diana’s hand when she was finally diagnosed with ALL. She stayed with her through the poisonous hell of chemotherapy and insisted on sleeping on the hospital floor rather than leaving her side. We often begged Mom to go home so someone else could replace her, but she hardly ever did. She said any mother would do the same for her child, and perhaps she’s right, but I still think she is extraordinary.
Diana’s battle with ALL has touched our entire family. My younger sister and I, my father, and my husband have done everything in our power to help and support Diana and my mom. The hardest part has been looking for blood donors. After each round of chemo, we had to find at least three or four people who could donate. In fact, we all donated- me, my husband, my younger sister, Diana’s boyfriend, and all our friends. As the months went by, it became harder and harder to find donors, but fortunately we always pulled through somehow. That was yet another miracle.
Love conquers all
There is a poignant touch to this story. All throughout this ordeal, Diana’s boyfriend, Raul, has remained by her side. He was there to cheer her up through the hell. He saw her when she was lying there, ravaged by disease, and when all her hair fell out. He has gone out and twisted people’s arms to get them to donate blood, and he has always believed she would get better one day. And now she has! That’s a miracle too.
Last week, Diana and Raul decided to get married before she starts the transplant process. They got married last Wednesday at the civil registry, and we had a party only with our closest family and friends. Of course, this is Mexico, so there was a pretty lively bash at my parents’ house. It was a beautiful way of celebrating her victory against the disease. Seeing them together reminds us all that love can conquer anything, and that nothing is impossible.
The next battle
I don’t know what the future holds for Diana, but I’m sure we will all be there to help and support her. We’ll hold her hand, we’ll cheer her on, we’ll go to see her at the hospital, we’ll look for more blood donors if necessary. My younger sister and I will get tested and one of us is going to be compatible, I know. We have to be. We will never give up, because she won’t either. There’s plenty of life and love left in her, and that’s worth fighting for. She is a true warrior. I believe we have yet to witness some more miracles!
Update, November 23rd, 2015
I am sorry to tell you that Diana is no longer in remission. She has been admitted to the hospital once again for more chemotherapy, but she is feeling fine and is in good spirits. Today, my younger sister and I submitted our blood samples to get tested for compatibility. With a little bit of luck, one of us will be able to donate bone marrow for Diana’s transplant. Keep your fingers crossed!
Update, December 3rd, 2016
Another miracle! My younger sister, Julie, is compatible with Diana. As soon as she is in remission, she’ll be able to start the transplant process! Finally, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We are so excited!
Update, March 19th, 2016
Diana remained at the hospital, getting chemo and fighting infections, all through Christmas and New Year’s. She was discharged in January, but she was not in remission. Far from it. She was weak, pale and very thin, but all in all she was happy to be home and ready to recover a little before starting the next round of chemo.
Sadly, she only got weaker. She had to be taken back to the hospital only a few days after getting home. Still determined to fight, she remained there for three weeks, struggling against the now unstoppable decline. On the night of March 16th, she closed her eyes and passed away in her sleep, with Mom by her side.
My sister Diana has left a terrible void in the lives of all who knew and loved her, but she has also taught us a valuable lesson of hope, faith, and courage. She never gave up, and faced a horrifying illness with dignity and a smile on her face. She is now our angel in heaven, and we are grateful for having her even if it was only for a little while. I love you sis, always will.