Stories about: acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)

He lost his sight to cancer, but not his vision of a full life

Man blind from leukemia climbs 14,000 ft. mountain after stem cell transplant.

When Tim Conners collected his wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation in 2012 at the age of 18, he was blind from childhood leukemia that had spread to his optic nerve and craving inspiration to transcend his disability. A football player and wrestler who’d never been an outdoorsman, he asked to meet Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to climb the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on seven continents.

Tim’s wish came true. He had 2½ terrifying but transformative days of outdoor adventures in Colorado with Erik, who lost his sight to a degenerative eye disorder at 13.

Now Tim is training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the 19,000-foot peak in Tanzania in May, shortly after he graduates from Ithaca College. He’s already climbed four peaks in Colorado, including the 14,000-foot, snow- and loose-rock-covered Mount Sherman last summer. He’s trekked and rafted in the Grand Canyon.

“In a lot of ways, losing my sight gave me my vision,” says Tim.

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A warrior’s letter of hope

Ryan_Hathaway

Dear young warrior,

I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on April 3, 2009. I was 15. After a month of intensive inpatient chemotherapy, I went into remission. Then came two years of outpatient chemo, and a bilateral hip replacement in 2011. A recent checkup with my oncologist confirmed that I’m still in remission. 

I’ve been healthy for years, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t often think about it, about all of it — the people, places and feelings that comprise an entire chapter of my life. Now, not a single year will pass when I don’t feel April 3 looming weeks in advance. But I’m careful to never dwell, ruminate or brood on it, because what good would it do to wonder what might have been if I wasn’t diagnosed with cancer seven years ago?

People can’t fathom cancer. When your family and friends find out you have cancer, they may say, “I can’t imagine what that’s like for you and your parents. Your attitude is remarkable.” The funny thing is, I couldn’t have imagined what it’d be like either until I was faced with it. But I can recount the day I was diagnosed with as much vivid detail as I could tell you what I did yesterday. I can tell you I drove into Boston in my mom’s minivan with the seat reclined using my coat as a makeshift blanket, for comfort. I can remember the face of the doctor who told me I was sick. I can remember the nurse who came to console me and my family.

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Taking a targeted approach when leukemia comes back

Sarah Levin (above, with her mother Michelle Fineberg) went through hell and back when her acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) releapsed. New research by Lewis Silverman, MD, could make relapsed ALL much easier to treat.

Treatment success varies widely from cancer to cancer, but for one cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), we have a really good track record. The cure rate for ALL has, over the last 40 years, climbed to nearly 90 percent.

Less comforting is the fact that the disease comes back in about 10 to 20 percent of children who are initially cured. That’s what Michelle Fineberg found out when her daughter Sarah Levin relapsed nearly six years after her last treatment.

“Sarah’s color wasn’t right, and then she started running a fever, so I took her in for a blood test. I just knew deep down that the cancer was coming back,” Michelle recalls. “When the call came that we had to go back to the hospital, we were devastated. We knew we were going back into hell.”

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Our patients' stories: Taking on cancer with a smile

Ariana was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at just 2 months old. Allison O’Neill, MD has been with the family every step of the way.

When Sara Cepeda’s daughter Ariana was just two months old, she made a terrifying discovery while changing the small girl’s diaper. As Sara looked down at her baby on the changing table, she was horrified to see that Ariana’s entire midsection was covered in bruises. At first Sara wondered if her daughter could some how have been hurt by a stranger without her knowing, but a trip to the local emergency room revealed that her daughter’s bruising was caused by a medical condition. Based on what they saw in a physical exam, the ER doctors suspected Ariana was suffering from either a virus or acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and made arraignments for the small girl to be transferred to Dana-Farber/ Children’s Hospital Cancer Center right away.

“I was a nervous wreck,” Sara says, remembering the long drive from Methuen to Boston. “Naturally I was hoping for the virus, but at that point all I could do was hope. I felt very helpless.”

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