“As a blood cancer survivor, I live and breathe by my lab work. Many other cancer patients have scans. but I have labs.”
Alique first got sick when she was four years old. According to her mother, Alique experienced fatigue, energy loss, tiny red dots on her skin (called petechiae), bruising, and "the light in her eyes was gone." After a series of blood tests and a biopsy of her bone marrow, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
Lab tests are essential to monitoring a blood disease, and even though she was young, her parents wanted her to understand what was happening inside of her body. Starting when she was 4 years old, her parents and doctors would explain her lab work so she could understand the progression of her cancer: “I would keep track of platelets in a big jar using cheerios as platelets, red M&Ms as my hemoglobin, and blue as my white blood cells. I think my family teaching me how to understand this from such a young age gave me autonomy of my illness throughout the course of my life.”
The first treatment doctors recommended was a bone marrow transplant, but there was no match available. After searching for months, her doctors and parents decided to enroll Alique in a clinical trial for a new treatment option. The treatment worked and Alique went into remission.
In 2020, 22 years after she went into remission, Alique fainted at work. She also began to develop terrible headaches and realized she was bruising more than usual. She went to her doctor, who was hesitant to think anything was out of the ordinary, but Alique advocated to get a complete blood count (CBC) with differential test to check the levels of her blood. When she got her results, she looked at them and thought, “My cancer is back. These look like leukemia test results.” The next day, Alique got a biopsy of her bone marrow. The sample was sent to a pathologist, who compared it to images of a biopsy taken when she was a child. The doctors were shocked that Alique had Acute Myeloid Leukemia again, since it had been so long since her initial diagnosis.
After being diagnosed the second time, Alique underwent a year of chemotherapy. During her treatment, her oncologist relied on the pathology team to provide insights to into what was happening in Alique’s body. Her lab results informed them if she needed blood or platelets and what level of immunocompromise she had. This access to information was a huge comfort to Alique during her treatment and continues to offer important insight into her health: “Even now getting my labs drawn just gives me a sigh of relief.”
Alique’s condition has stabilized, and she has been able to return to her life. She will receive smaller doses of chemotherapy for the next 3-5 years to manage her cancer.