My Genetic Mutation and I

Those who know me well can support this statement: I’ve pretty much been a walking medical disaster my whole life. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. From all of my broken bones, to my uniquely acquired concussions, to my unexplainable hiccup problem (which some have compared to a “pterodactyl mating call”), I’ve definitely kept my doctors on their toes throughout the years. Let’s just say you know it’s bad when the doctor you see for broken bones can be heard in the hallway saying, “We’ve got Jillian Procope; old patient, new problem.” Tell me how you really feel doc. 

So of course, given my history, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found myself explaining to the oncology resident why being a super klutz is a perfectly good explanation for 13 broken bones. Once more for those in the back: yes, I feel safe at home. To this day I still don’t think he believed me… Once I got the Baltimore peeps caught up on what the Harrisburg peeps already knew (that I just can’t do life correctly), we moved on to talking about the fun stuff.  More cancer things! The oncologist on rotation at that time explained to us that while, yes, we knew already that my leukemia was considered the “bad kind” of leukemia (and by that I mean more difficult to treat I guess),  there were also different “levels” to AML. As she described it, under the umbrella of already “bad” cancer was: alright, not great, and bad. These levels (or whatever you want to call it) basically described the likelihood of a long lasting remission. So with the sample taken during my first bone marrow biopsy they were going to perform tests to see how much of my cells were cancerous and if any genetic markers or proteins (or any other biology terms that I probably should’ve studied more in high school) were present on these cells.

It took a few days for the results to come back, and during that time I was started on the standard AML treatment plan of 10 days worth of 3 different chemo drugs. But when they came back, it was revealed that 56% of my white blood cells were blasts (abnormal immature white cells aka my cancer cells), and that I had a FLT-3 mutation. To be honest, I never bothered googling FLT-3 because I didn’t really want Webmd leading me astray again and also because it took me until about August to even figure out that people were saying it like FLIT-three instead of FLICK-three, so who knows what would have come up on my search. Essentially, the FLT-3 gene is a protein coding gene that lives on blood cells, and when it gets mutated like mine it basically causes the leukemia cells to grow and replicate much faster than if it wasn’t mutated and blah blah blah… (my medical knowledge kind of ended once they started using big words and lots of acronyms)

Harrisburg’s very own medical disaster strikes again. Of course I’d be the one with a genetic mutation. Gotta do it big for the home crowd.

Unfortunately, being akin to that of one of the X-men landed me firmly in the “not great” category under my gloomy umbrella of “bad.” So now a bone marrow transplant was no longer an idea on the table, it was a guaranteed thing that was most definitely happening. I was given a fourth chemo drug to take by pill once the other three finished their 10 day cycle that would specifically target the mutated gene, and the transplant coordinator was notified to start searching for a donor. But if the transplant team thought that the Medical Disaster would make it easy on them from that point on, they were sorely mistaken.


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