Submitted by Rebekah Lloyd
I was just shy of my 24th birthday when I first began to notice symptoms. I was feeling very tired. I didn’t think much of it because I was going to school full time and was working 3 part time jobs. That was the end of March.
By the second week of April, my symptoms had grown worse. I could not walk up a flight of stairs without being completely out of breath. I could feel a rattling of liquid in my lungs when I breathed. I was getting nauseated at night and was having excruciating headaches.
At first I thought that I was fighting off the flu, but the symptoms were becoming more alarming. One night I got up and passed out in the bathroom. Then one Wednesday night at church, the lower part of my face went numb. This scared me, so the next day I asked my mom to take me to the doctors.
They ran some tests and the blood came back positive for cancer. They thought initially it was a blood cancer and scheduled a lymph node biopsy to determine more. The lymph node was completely filled with cancer, indicating it had spread through my entire body. The Dr. referred me to a cancer center in Denver, CO and we left the very next day.
By this time I was on oxygen and was having a lot of trouble with mobility. They took me into the hospital in a wheel chair. About this time, a friend of ours from New Zealand contacted my dad. He had been praying for me and felt like God wanted him to share a verse with us: Psalm 118:17 I shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord. I knew this verse was for me and it strengthened me many times over the months to come.
When I arrived at the Denver cancer center they did a bone marrow biopsy and determined that I had ALL-Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. This is normally a disease of children or the elderly, so it was very strange for me to get it at my age. The day was April 25th, less than a month from when I first noticed symptoms. The doctors came back in with the results of the tests and told me that I had 2 weeks to live if I did not begin treatment immediately. I remembered my scripture and we began treatment. My mom stayed with me in Denver, while my dad went back home to return to work and care for my younger siblings who were still at home.
I lived in the ICU for almost a month completing 2 rounds of chemotherapy and the transformation could not have been more drastic. The Dr. declared my blood completely cancer free. Although I was now bald, I felt well again. I was walking, off oxygen (they had drained more than 2 liters of fluid off my lungs), my headaches were gone and I was only feeling nauseated when I did the treatments.
I was so ready to go home! I had missed my brother’s wedding and the end of my semester of school because the sickness had come on so quickly. At the end of the 2 rounds of chemo, the doctors had a meeting with me and my mom. They said they had found something alarming in the bloodwork.
The kind of cancer that I had included a Philadelphia Chromosome, making it an extremely aggressive and fast reproducing cancer. This explained both why it had come on so suddenly as well as why it had been so easy to beat back. The Dr. told me that because of
this, the chance of the cancer coming back without further treatment was 95%. He said a bone marrow transplant was the only way to ensure the cancer was gone for good.
He said if I survived the bone marrow transplant and 5 years after, I would have a 98% chance the cancer would never return. I was allowed to go home for one weekend before returning to the hospital to complete 2 more rounds of chemo and multiple radiation sets.
They gave me the highest doses of radiation they give to humans. My younger brother Jon was a perfect match and agreed to be my donor. Once again I was placed in the ICU, as my immune system was completely gone. I received my brother’s bone marrow cells in the middle of August. Just as with any organ transplant, there is always a danger that the body will reject the cells as not it’s own.
My body was quite accepting and I only had minimal Graft vs. Host Disease symptoms. But it was still a long, slow agonizing recovery. My body had to slowly integrate my brother’s
cells and use them to start creating new ones. I required multiple blood and platelet infusions to keep my blood levels up and to prevent bleeding.
I stayed in the ICU unit for a couple of months, but was finally released to a local hotel in October. When I was released from the hospital I was on 27 different medications. I had to stay within 30 minutes of the hospital at all times and I had to have someone with me
all the time. My mom stayed with me through the entire ordeal. My friends and family visited regularly.
Finally, in November I was released home again. I still had to return to the hospital 3 times per week. But gradually these visits were lessened until I was finally released to annual visits. I have been able to come off of all medications and am 100% cancer free.
This is my 11th year and the scripture rings true: I have not died, but have lived and declared the works of the Lord!
I wanted to give special attention in my story to those who helped me make it through. It is fitting to honor survivors and recognize what they have endured, but in almost every case they would have not have survived if it were not for their team of family and friends and doctors who rally behind them and lift them up in prayer, encourage them and walk through the entire ordeal by their side.
I am so very grateful for my Dad and Mom, each of my siblings and their spouses, my friends Angela and Kristina, and an absolute tribe of other people who prayed, donated,
visited, sent cards and gifts, called and gave themselves to me and my family during that time.
I am also forever grateful for my team of doctors and nurses at the cancer center in Denver who work every day to combat cancer. I could not have made it without my people and I am
forever grateful to each of you. To God be the glory.