Survivor: Acute Myeloid Leukemia
I am a Survivor
My name is Andrew Bundy. I'm a cancer survivor, author, and survivorship advocate. I recently published my memoir, "Surviving the Cure: Cancer was Easy,* Living is Hard", about the challenges that survivors face in a life after cancer. This is part of my efforts to educate not only the public, but also the medical community and cancer patients and survivors about the many problems that come up as patients become survivors. Below is a summary of the last ten years of my life, from cancer to surviving the cure to my book and advocacy efforts.
I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in 2007, just as I was about to graduate high school. (I didn't have to take finals, though! Lucky me.) I went through four rounds of chemotherapy before a final nail in my cancer's coffin was driven in with a bone marrow transplant (BMT).
Due to a series of nasty infections, I remained in the hospital for a couple months after the BMT that made my doctors reluctant to release me. But, just a few days before Christmas, I was allowed to go back home! Finally, I was in remission and it seemed as though everything had worked out. Now I could return to the world and continue my life.
However, life post-cancer was far different from what I expected. I'd believed what most believe: you either die or get better and then go on to live an almost normal life. But what I didn't know—what few people know, what the doctors didn't really prepare me for—was the truth. Sure, there are people who have cancer, go through treatment, have a couple side effects, and then are essentially "fine." But most are not so fortunate. Either their cancer returns or they bear a multitude of marks or suffer through severe mental and emotional issues or all of the above and more. There's plenty of after-effects to go around, the list seems endless.
Me? I didn't land in the first group. I would be thrust into the highest ranks of those whose cancer was only the beginning.
Surviving the Cure
Just a couple months after returning home, I started to have breathing problems and stomach pains. They quickly escalated, and soon it was readily apparent something was very wrong. I'd developed Graft vs. Host Disease (GVHD), and now the BMT was attacking my body. My condition deteriorated rapidly as the GVHD ravaged my lungs and gut. As my lungs started to fill with fluid, the doctors had to put me in a coma for several days to save my life. To bring down the GVHD-induced inflammation and stop the fluid build-up, they gave me massive doses of a potent steroid called prednisone—extremely effective, but with brutal side effects in large amounts. It was necessary to keep me alive, so the decision whether to use it on me or not wasn't hotly debated. I was soon taken out of the coma.
The first side effect showed itself almost immediately—my weight ballooned by nearly a hundred pounds over the course of a month from water retention. And while the treatment worked at first, I soon became so sick the doctors gave me a 5-10% chance to live and about two weeks. Yet, I pulled through. But instead of being happy, a deep, dark depression settled over me when I realized I would almost certainly never have that normal life I craved. I was left heavily scarred—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD; I know, there's a ton of acronyms in the field of medicine), anxiety, depression, the trauma of my experience haunting me, tearing at my mind and soul. The cure had done much more damage than the disease. However, it did save my live.
Soon after I was "healthy" enough to return home, I learned the prednisone had started off a degenerative bone disease called avascular necrosis (AVN) that severely reduced blood flow to my bones. It wasn't long before my joints started to become brittle, which led to them collapsing. Over the years, I've had to replace nine joints (only three off the world record) as I try to rebuild both my body and my life.
Where I am Now: Advocating for Survivorship
My experience with the challenges of survivorship (life after cancer) and learning how little people really know about this increasingly important and relevant aspect of cancer led to me decide to write my memoir. With my unique insight into after-cancer challenges, I wanted to find a way to share this information with the general public to educate them. By telling my story, I hope to start a discussion to raise awareness for those survivors struggling with the challenges of the side-effects of their treatment.
I've noticed most people's assumptions tend to run along the lines of: "Oh, well you're in remission, so everything must be fine now!" And the unfortunate consequence of this thinking is that survivors receive far less support after remission than when they were fighting cancer.
Thankfully, survivorship is starting to come more into the public eye, but we still need to fight to ensure those in remission have the quality of life they deserve. The more research and awareness we bring to this issue, the more support those trying to rebuild their lives will receive and their continued struggle will be less difficult with their community, and the world, working together to do their very best for the good of those struggling in the dark.
My name is Andrew Bundy. I'm a cancer survivor, author, and survivorship advocate. I recently published my memoir, "Surviving the Cure: Cancer was Easy,* Living is Hard", about the challenges that survivors face in a life after cancer. This is part of my efforts to educate not... [Read More]