Becky woke up feeling like she had been hit by a car when she was just two weeks into her freshman year of college. "Everything hurt and I had terrible stomach and back pains," she says. Just days later her world was turned upside-down when she was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, rare at age 18, and told she needed a bone marrow transplant. "I was shocked and scared. Bone marrow transplants were still considered a newer treatment option at this time, but it was the only curative course of action," says Becky. Luckily, Becky's sister was a perfect match and in January 1992, she received a life-saving transplant at St. Jude Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
She returned to college that May with a new passion for life. "My life had changed so drastically. I went from being 18-years-old to an adult in just a few short months," says Becky. Feeling blessed, Becky changed her major from music to nursing, wanting to help patients like her.
In her final semester of college, Becky visited her doctor for her three year post-transplant check-up and received heartbreaking news. She had relapsed.
Adding to the heartache, Becky had recently joined a singles group at her church and had fallen in love with an amazing man named Clint. "We had been dating a little over a year when I found out I had relapsed and I didn't know what this meant for our future." A few days later, Clint proposed saying, "I don't care if we have three weeks, three months or three years. All I know is I want to spend it with you."
Her heart filled with hope, Becky gathered her strength and had her first DLI, donor lymphocyte infusion, a treatment option that eliminates the need for a second marrow transplant in some patients. A few months later, she graduated with a degree in nursing and was married the very next day.
But Becky struggled to stay healthy, relapsing and returning to remission six times. "I could never make it past the three year mark and this cycle became my new normal," says Becky. "My family would joke about the 'many faces of Becky' yo-yoing from puffy steroid cheeks, to bald from chemo and appearing totally healthy." But she remained a resilient fighter with support from her husband, family and her church.
But what really kept her going was her role as a Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) nurse at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. "The BMT unit is a place that needs hope and, just by looking at me, I give that hope to both my colleagues and patients-I'm someone who has walked in their shoes and truly understands," says Becky.
In 2010, after her fifth relapse treated with DLI and drug therapies, Becky's doctors decided it was time for a different approach. A search began for an unrelated marrow donor and three perfect matches were located. "I felt so lucky," says Becky.
Becky chose to have her transplant at Moffitt and was admitted as a patient to her very own unit. "My colleagues are like my family and it was so great to know that everyone was looking out for me. I had so much trust in them." Becky experienced some Graft-versus-host disease, a common side effect of an unrelated marrow transplant, but the transplant was a success.
Today, Becky is happy, healthy and has rejoined her team as a BMT coordinator. And, for the first time ever, she sailed past her dreaded three year post-transplant check-up with a clean bill of health. "All we've ever known is sickness, health, sickness, health so Clint and I were too afraid to make long-term plans." She believes her future is bright. At the top of her bucket list is taking a trip to hug the young military man who stepped forward as her marrow donor and saved her life.
"Life is fantastic and I have been so blessed to share my journey with others," Becky exuberantly says!