IN THEIR WORDS

Ashley Emerson

Leukemia

It was senior year in high school and life was quite busy. I played three sports, participated in every club and society, volunteered, worked part time and kept quite an active social calendar.  I wanted so badly to be accepted into one of my top choice universities and to make the most of senior year.

I started to notice some health changes. I was so unbelievably tired all of a sudden – even falling asleep right at the kitchen table. I simply attributed all of that to having such a heavy course load. I was constantly brushing off my tiredness as just being a symptom of my busy life. It got worse and I began falling asleep in class and nodding off while driving. It’s only now that I look back and recognize what a dramatic change from my “normal” all that really was.

Soon I started experiencing headaches too. I carried around Tylenol and would take it from the moment I woke up until I fell asleep. I brushed off all these symptoms and assumed that I was a healthy and resilient 18 year old and that nothing major could have been wrong. This worked for several months until I began having even more extreme attacks of pain – this time in my jaw.

The pain in my jaw became worse and worse and I missed weeks of school. I waited 9 months before seeking help from the doctor. I had never been sick before, had never broken anything or suffered from pain previously, so the symptoms were easy to dismiss.

It was overwhelming- a total emotional roller coaster! My doctor didn’t initially consider cancer as a possible explanation for my rapid physical deterioration.

After about four months of testing and many misguided outcomes, they determined that I had Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL). ALL is a blood cancer that creates a very rapid overproduction of immature cells which were pushing out of my jaw and knees causing the pain, fatigue and headaches. Although the cancer was diagnosed relatively early, all the warning signs were there, my body’s way of alerting me to a very serious issue. Instead of working harder to mask those persisting health changes, I now realize the importance of seeing a doctor quickly when you become aware of unexpected changes in your “normal” state of health.

I was diagnosed in 2003, underwent 3+ years of chemotherapy and have been cancer free since. I am so thankful for the work that 15-40 Connection is doing to educate young adults and provide them with a frame of reference for what a cancer symptom can look and feel likeLet’s detect cancer early!

"I now realize the importance of seeing a doctor quickly when you become aware of unexpected changes in your “normal” state of health."

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