An MLT Perspective
As an MLT in the hematology lab in a hospital, I sometimes collected blood samples from children when requested by physicians. Taking a blood sample from a young child is done by pricking a finger and collecting the blood by droplets. It's a small sample, with only enough to do one or two tests.
She was incredibly lethargic; she didn't even put up a fight when I pricked her finger.
One day I was called to take a blood sample from a child in the emergency room. I found this little girl with blond curls, huddled on her mom's lap. She was incredibly lethargic; she didn't even put up a fight when I pricked her finger.
I took the sample and brought it back in the lab to run it through the analyzer, a machine that will take a complete blood count. Right away there was a problem.
This little girl's white blood cell count was so high that the analyzer couldn't give a reading. My heart just sank. I knew her diagnosis would be leukemia. Leukemia is cancer in the blood that is treatable in children, if it's caught early.
Just to be sure, I wanted to run the same test again but there wasn't enough of a sample left. I decided to make a slide and actually look at the blood cells under the microscope. By this time the entire lab was gathered around and waiting to know the results. One look at the slide and I slowly shook my head. My lab team knew then what I had thought from the start- this little girl had leukemia.
All abnormal findings in the lab get sent to the pathologist for a diagnosis. Sensing my urgency, the pathologist on staff did her analysis right away and passed on the diagnosis of leukemia to the physician. The girl was immediately air lifted to a larger hospital to start treatment.
Because of me, the physician now knew how to treat her.
I felt so sad for this little girl and her family that they had just found out that she had a very serious illness. It was upsetting to me that I had to be the one that made that discovery. The pathologist visited me later, to congratulate me on the good work I had done. She told me that making that discovery was not a negative thing, it was good. Because of me, the physician now knew how to treat her. She reminded me why the work we do in the lab is so important-knowing can save lives. She said I saved her life.
A Patient Perspective
My husband and I had been planning a vacation to the Dominican Republic. As we got closer to the date of our trip, I made a doctor's appointment to get malaria pills, as they were recommended for travelling to this area. While I was there, I thought I would show my doctor a lump that I had recently found in my breast. I didn't do self-exams regularly and I hadn't really thought much about it. But, since I was there, I figured it was best to have it checked out.
I spent my whole vacation with one singular thought in the back of my mind – What if I have cancer?
My doctor told me that it was probably a cyst and he planned for me to have an ultrasound done when I returned from my trip. He said that cysts where very common and that I shouldn't worry. Easier said than done. I spent my whole vacation with one singular thought in the back of my mind – What if I have cancer? Despite a growing sense of fear, I decided not to tell my husband yet. I didn't want him to worry and at that point there wasn't enough information to worry about.
I returned from the trip anxious to find out the answer to whether I had cancer. The not knowing was driving me crazy. I had my ultrasound on a Monday and went into work right afterward. I had a feeling that things could get very serious, so I called my husband and told him that I had to meet him for lunch. I brought him up to speed on everything that had happened so far. It was a relief to share this with him and I'm glad that I did. His support then and during the road ahead would be my greatest weapon in the fight against cancer. From that point on, we would face everything as a team.
Within a few hours my doctor had called me to schedule a biopsy for later that week. It seemed like things were happening very quickly, and my husband and I just took one step at a time, but waiting for those results felt like a lifetime. The results came back from the lab and I learned that I had invasive ductal carcinoma- breast cancer.
The testing done from the biopsy was important. Not only did it confirm the cancer but it also told my doctor the exact type of cancer I had. Despite the weight of the diagnosis, I felt the knowledge was sort of empowering. We now knew what lay before us and were ready to fight.
The next visit was to the surgeon who took the time to explain my options for surgery; I chose to have a mastectomy with lymph node dissection. After surgery I met with my oncologist who, after reviewing all the reports from the biopsy and surgery, recommended that I have 8 rounds of chemotherapy and 25 rounds of radiation. The final decision was always up to me. I knew the chances of survival were far greater with treatments and so I prepared for the next battle and began my journey to recovery.
Before each round of chemo I had to have a blood test to see if I could continue treatments. Luckily, my blood counts were always good and I could finish out all my treatments. After my treatments I had hormone receptor testing done and it determined that my cancer was fed by estrogen. I was able to take a drug called Tamoxifen to block estrogen enhanced cancer cells from growing, therefore increasing my chances of survival by 30%.
Throughout my illness and treatments I tried to maintain a positive outlook.
Throughout my illness and treatments I tried to maintain a positive outlook. I talked to everyone that was curious or had questions about my health. Some of my friends said they couldn't believe how strong I was, to go through all this with a positive attitude. This strength did not only come from within myself and my determination to beat this disease, but also from the support of family, friends and co-workers – and especially my husband. He was with me for every step, through every treatment. And together we emerged from this fight victorious.
At first when I had a feeling that the lump could be cancer, I was afraid of what was going to happen. I was afraid of what the test results would show. When the results came back and I knew it was cancer, I was able to fight it. I was able to beat it. I am a SURVIVOR!