ER Doctor Becomes a Patient and Light The Night Honoree After AML Diagnosis

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In September of  2012, Dr. Matthew Levine noticed that his regular exercise routine and rotations in the ER were more physically draining than usual. When Dr. Levine realized he could no longer run a mile that he used to with ease, he contacted his physician. In the interim, Dr. Levine began developing bruises on his body and a throat infection. He knew that the after testing, the diagnosis would not be good. On Monday, September 17, 2012. Dr. Levine was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).

“I appreciated being able to fully understand what I had and what was recommended. Being a physician also made it easy for me to advocate for myself. I have learned that all patients must be able to do this for themselves. – Matt

Dr. Levine underwent the routine 4-6 weeks of treatment and a stem cell transplant. Receiving a stem cell transplant would keep Dr. Levine out of work for over a year. Dr. Levine is now in remission and back in the ER. Although he has some physical side effects from his treatment, he has concluded that it is his “new normal.”

“I do not want to sugar coat this experience. With that being said you make the best of it, and there are positives that have come out of it. One has been a newfound commitment to philanthropy. Another positive, and the one that has touched me most, is the exposure I have had to tremendous amounts of human kindness. – Matt

In the fall of 2012, Dr. Levine’s friend’s and family gathered img_1725to support him in the Light The Night Walk. Dr. Levine views his cancer journey as one in which has made him committed to philanthropy. This year, Dr. Levine will walk in the Light the Night Ceremony in Oak Brook, IL. to support the LLS and all those affected by cancer.

Dr. Levine is the Light the Night Honored Hero for Chicagoland. Chicagoland’s Light the Night will take place on Saturday, October 24 in Chicago/Arvey Field Grant Park, Saturday, October 24 Oak Brook/ Oak Brook Park District, and Sunday, October 25 Glenview/ Gallery Park. Check in is at 4:30 P.M. and the walk begins at 6:15 P.M. at each location. For more information and to register for Light the Night, visit http://www.lightthenight.org/il/.

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It Takes More Than a Village- The Creation of our Cancer Community by, Sarah Mowat

Isobel  MeIn early 2013, 6 months after my first daughter was born I sat peacefully cradling a cup of warm tea in my hands whilst she napped. I was aimlessly browsing the web when a news article caught my eye; it was a campaign for a young mom who had recently been diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell Lymphoma. She was in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant but despite a nationwide bone marrow drive, they couldn’t find a match.  My heart ached for her and her family, big fat tears rolled down my cheek whilst I looked through the forms for bone marrow donation.  She seemed so strong and I wondered what I would do, given such a diagnosis. I couldn’t imagine.

One thing I did not think I would be doing was blowing up pink party balloons, but that is what I was doing, the evening after I received the news that I had cancer, mostly likely Hodgkin Lymphoma – stage not yet determined.  It was in August of 2014, 2 days before my eldest daughter’s second birthday and my youngest turned 3 months. I wasn’t blowing up balloons in some sort of defiant display of inner strength – to show cancer who’s boss – because, in all honestly, I was a bit of a mess.  My appointments for the next week blurred in front of me –Crazy lady in the infusion chair - second session
’PET scan, that sounds nice, no?’

’Pardon, did you say NUCLEAR medicine, oh you did, right of course, I’ll be on my way’

‘A MUGA what? Tea/coffee, no, Multi Gated Acquisition Scan of the heart’

‘I’m radiating? Oh sorry, actually physically radiating, nice. I’ll keep away from kids, sure’

’Pulmonary Function… you want me to sit in that plastic cubby and blow what, for how long?!’

‘I’m sorry, you’re doing what with that 2ft length of tubing?!’

‘Chemo Class? Wow – you’re all note taking, is there a test? Maybe there should be – I think I’m failing’

It was daunting, but one of the biggest shocks was that life continues.  The world keeps going round, bills still need to be paid, people still have to work, birthdays still happen and even though I’m standing, like a frazzled radioactive deer in the headlights of a cancer truck, things keep moving.

That’s why I was blowing up pink balloons.

Our family lives in the UK. Like many of us, we trotted off into the world for jobs, college, wanderlust and love – leaving behind our home towns and the security of family. It’s exhilarating being able to do that so freely but when someone you love gets sick, it gets difficult.

Sarah MowatAfter scrambling through that week of tests, balloon blowing and birthday celebrations, I had a diagnosis of stage 2 Hodgkin Lymphoma. My mind raced to the girls. Before I became a parent, I had a romantic vision of how I could help guide these little humans into the world – you know, encourage a polite use of language(s), love of education, animals, books and ability to play the piano with the skills of Beethoven. On becoming a parent I chuckled at myself and re-evaluated my plans, focusing on the basics, like loving them, being there and trying my hardest not to mess things up.  Then cancer happened and it made me feel like I was failing them at the very core.

We contemplated taking the girls on the next flight back to the UK, leaving my husband Nick to work in the US, but that would have taken time and meant separating our little family.  I’ve since met and spoken with others who have that same decision to make – stay where your life is, return to family/home towns or even more crushing, moving to medical care where there is no support. Whether your family is in another country, state, city or just 10 minutes away, it quickly becomes clear you’re going to need help. Not just from the medical world but from family, friends, employers, neighbors, organizations such as LLS and the virtual world.

Our parents – heartbroken but defiant – did everything they could to support us. My Mum (I don’t think she would forgive me for using the US name, Mom – she has her limits) flew back and forth between residing in our spare room and caring for family back home.  She’d work remotely late into the night so that she could spend her days answering the insistent ‘Grrrrrraaannndmmmmaa’ callings from toddler Evie and cries from an unhappy Isobel who was not impressed that she had to be weaned onto a bottle. Nick’s parents also put their lives on hold and flew over to settle into our spare room for 6 weeks.  They lovingly packed me off to the hospital with a lunch box, took over Nick’s role when he travelled for work, ran me warm bubble baths for my achy bones and took Isobel out for long walks to give me a chance to nap. The list goes on – they’re miracle workers.P1040361

We were very lucky to have been able to call in the cavalry from home and I look back on that time we spent together fondly. We had always been so busy that when they’d visit we never really appreciated those leisurely cups of tea and natters.

All the same, even with our cavalry from home, we still had gaps in what we hoped would be 5-6 months of treatment. The kitchen wall planner became the matriarch of the family — looming above us with scribbles of Doctor visits, tests, flight numbers, chemo days, dressing changes, girls doctor appointments, visits from friends, birthdays, neulasta shots and cat booster reminders (can’t forget the furbabies).  We needed to have people on call for us but it felt like such a big ask.

We didn’t need to ask, our Chicago friends stepped in and adopted us as they would their own family and we began to accept offers of help. On my second chemo infusion day, two close friends watched over the girls. Before leaving they gave me a pretty bag which included some easy read novels, a note book, lip balm and some funky Union Jack socks. I wore those socks at every chemo session that followed, like some crazy British lady setting up a home in my chemo chair with my packed lunches, teddies and eccentric attire. I’d cherish the chats with the day hospital nurses, who would look at me through soft non- alarmed eyes whilst we’d discuss fantastically mundane things like what we planned to eat for dinner. It felt so very normal, which I think is all a cancer patient undergoing treatment really aspires to. When I came home from chemo on that second day, my friend had snapped pictures of the girls throughout the afternoon, quickly ran out to get them printed and then put them in a photo album.  It was one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done for me.Me and Nick

The sweetness didn’t end there either. Throughout my treatment, work sent me flowers to coincide with chemo days and supported us on a level we would never have dreamed of. Friends from afar would send me notes of support. I received books, trinkets and notes from those who barely even knew me. Those close enough dropped off bagfuls of much appreciated freezer food. My sister would send me cheeky jokes. One morning my mind began to wander sinisterly, into the world of scary possibilities and then I received a ping on my phone, from my sister, it was a clip from the film Madagascar of two hippos courting, titled ‘I like them big and chunky’. For anyone in need of a pick me up, you should google it. One generous friend I affectionately call ‘Bessie’, pumped night and day for 9 months to provide baby Isobel with breast milk in addition to her own baby’s needs. Anyone who has ever been attached to one of those noisy human milk pumps knows what a truly amazing gift that is, especially considering she is a mom of 3 and holds down a demanding job in the city.

Then there was my Husband, Nick, who despite agreeing to marry me ‘for better, for worse, in sickness or in health’ probably didn’t imagine would be tested on that 5 years in. He stoically hid any worries of finances or bringing up two daughters without his wife and their mother behind work and DIY tasks. Through it all, he has somehow managed to still make me feel beautiful and protected – scars, PICC line, shedding and all – quite the feat.

evie LLS garage saleA few months into chemotherapy, our family attended the LLS Night the Light Walk and I recall standing and watching the Survivor Speaker in awe. It was quite an amazing feeling, standing among hundreds of people who were all there to fight blood cancers and support families like ours. As the Survivor on stage was talking I felt myself starting to well up, I glanced to my side and noticed the lady next to me had a tear rolling down her cheek. I have never felt more at home anywhere, than stood there at that moment with my family. That’s my excuse for my ridiculous dancing at the end of the night anyway.

There has been so much beauty in the past year and it’s been so very humbling.

This is not to say it was all sunshine and rainbows of super support.  It’s not easy knowing how to support someone going through cancer or any life changing affliction. I probably have been that person – over thinking the situation and not reaching out. It’s hard to know what to say or you worry they are too busy being ill to be disturbed and you will offend them. Some friends fell away and I understood that. I will say, for anyone pondering how to support someone – I never received a message I didn’t love and appreciate, no matter how short or long it always felt like a grand gesture to me.

As the treatment subsided in January of this year and I was let loose in the world again, my needs for moral support increased.  Feeling a little lost without regular visits to my much loved Oncologist and nursing team, I began stepping out of my comfort zone into the world of the cancer Survivor community.  I feel like I need to use a disclaimer with the term ‘Survivor’ as it seems very brazen. However, for my own well being I’m embracing life in the present, as a Survivor.  A few weeks ago I attended a woman’s cancer conference. I walked into the keynote speech late and quietly sat alongside a beautiful woman wearing a fitted pair of jeans and sharp jacket. The fact she had little hair was secondary to her prettiness and warm personality. Before she left the conference she slipped me a bit of torn paper with her number on. I sent her a text – within 30 seconds – because life is short and I’m a dork. With that, I made my first Survivor friend.

Looking back on the past year, I see so much kindness and love intertwined between the loneliness and worry that comes with a cancer diagnosis. The young mom I mentioned reading about 2 ½ years ago received a life saving cord blood transplant and is in remission. I follow her progress even though I don’t know her — I find strength in hers.

It really does take more than a village to care for a cancer patient.

Thank you to all my village of cancer caregivers; be it my professional medical team at Loyola University Medical Center, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, friends, family, colleagues, fellow survivors or strangers wishing me well from afar.

I realize there are lots of other little villages of people out there doing the same thing and beyond that, communities of Researchers, Scientists, Fundraisers, Advocates, Volunteers who tirelessly work behind the scene to support people like me and families like ours. Sunshine

Thank you All

-Sarah

Follow Sarah through her journey by catching up with her on her blog PuddlesAndRainbows. You can also catch her as a guest blogger for LLS IL.

15th Annual Man & Woman of the Year Campaign Raises $570,000

Megan Van Pelt and Luke Smith

Megan Van Pelt and Luke Smith

The 15th Annual Man & Woman of the Year campaign presented by G&T Sports Medicine concluded with a Grand Finale Gala at the Swisshôtel on Saturday, June 20. Each year participants are chosen from Chicago’s social and professional circles to raise funds to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).

Inspired by the Boy and Girl of the Year, Martez Bassett and Maya Keesey, 11 candidates collectively raised $570,000!  The event culminated with the announcement of the 2015 Man & Woman of the Year, Luke K. Smith of MVTRAC and Megan Van Pelt of Starwood Retail Partners, LLC.

Nelson M. Francis of Jones Lang LaSalle Americas (Illinois) L.P. and Tracy Kopp of Platinum Ventures, Inc. and Origami Owl were named first runners-up. In addition, Nelson won the Corporate Achievement Award.

Other award winners included: Ozzie Guillen, Jr. of New York Life Insurance Company for Volunteerism, Mark R. Lewers of Ivy Tech Community College and Riverbank Wealth Advisors for Mission Focused and Killeen Hultgren of Alpha Distributors for Community Involvement.

Little League All Star Named Northwest Indiana Honored Hero


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AfterIMG_4308 several months of flu-like symptoms, 11-year-old All Star little leaguer Ronnie took a blood test that would determine his white blood cell count was nearly 1 million. Ronnie was immediately sent to Ann and Robert H. Lurie’s Children’s Hospital of Chicago where he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

Ronnie’s family moved from their hometown of Portage, Indiana to temporary home in Chicago to support Ronnie during treatment. Receiving a bone marrow transplant would increase Ronnie’s chances of staying in remission post treatment. On April 25, 2012, Ronnie received a bone marrow transplant from an anonymous donor in Germany. Ronnie’s transplant proved to be the most impactful treatment option, as Ronnie is now in remission and suffers only from treatable side effects.

Take one day at a time. Always believe and have hope. There are many survivors out there, and this can be beat. Take the help from family, friends, community and strangers. They want to help and be there for you. – Ronnie

Prior to Ronnie’s diagnosis, he and his family attended a Light The Night Walk IMG_4309to support a family friend. After his diagnosis, Ronnie and his family joined the team Jump in for a Cure. The event gave Ronnie hope that he could fight ALL. In 2014, Ronnie joined the exclusive Bright Light’s Club that recognizes top fundraisers.

Ronnie continues to play baseball on a travel team with a goal of going to college and being in a profession where he can help others.

Ronnie is the Light the Night Honored Hero for Northwest Indiana. Northwest Indiana’s Light the Night will take place on Saturday, October 24 in Crown Point/ Lake County Fairgrounds. Check in is at 4:30 P.M. and the walk begins at 6:15 P.M. For more information and to register for Light the Night, visit http://www.lightthenight.org/il/.

LLS honors UK native at Oak Brook Light The Night Walk

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Sarah Mowat 2In August of 2014, after a routine medical procedure, doctors suspected that Sarah Mowat may have a lymphoma type cancer. Soon thereafter, with her husband by her side, doctors confirmed that Sarah indeed had cancer, Stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Sarah began a four month chemotherapy regimen followed by 15 days of radiation. Originally from Staffordshire, England, Sarah now lives in St. Charles with her husband, Nick, and their daughters, Evie and Isobel. Being far from home did not make things easy for Sarah, but visits from her family and starting a blog helped deal with the ups and downs of her cancer treatment.

My journey has been bittersweet; at the same time as my diagnosis I was also enjoying time with my baby girl Isobel who was 3 months old when I received the news. I took a leaf out of my toddlers book and lived in the moment, day by day. – Sarah

Light the Night 14During treatment Sarah learned about The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and participated in the 2014 Light The Night Walk. Surrounded by her family and new friends, she was excited by the crowd and inspired by those wearing Survivor T-Shirts. She continues to raise funds and awareness for blood cancer and will be honored at this year’s Walk on Saturday, October 24 in Oak Brook, IL. Sarah is now three months post treatment seeing her doctor for follow-up care.

Follow Sarah through her journey by catching up with her on her blog PuddlesAndRainbows. You can also catch her as a guest blogger for LLS IL.

Sarah is the Light the Night Honored Hero for Chicagoland. Chicagoland’s Light the Night will take place on Saturday, October 24 in Chicago/Arvey Field Grant Park, Saturday, October 24 Oak Brook/ Oak Brook Park District, and Sunday, October 25 Glenview/ Gallery Park. Check in is at 4:30 P.M. and the walk begins at 6:15 P.M. at each location. For more information and to register for Light the Night, visit http://www.lightthenight.org/il/.

David Stim Light the Night Honored Hero

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IMG_1305On June 17, 2014, 12 year old David Stim visited his pediatrician’s office to have a routine school physical. During David’s exam, the nurse practitioner noted that David had what appeared to be an enlarged lymph node on the right side of his neck. She surmised that David’s enlarged lymph node was probably due to a “reaction” to something, as is almost always the case in pediatrics. Since David had been treated for strep throat the month before, there was not much cause for concern. A busy summer went by, and the node did not appear to be changing in size. In October, David was treated for an upper respiratory infection, and again the pediatrician was not overly concerned regarding David’s enlarged node, surmising that it was again likely a “reactive” lymph node to recent infection. Just to be 100% sure, after David’s infection cleared, his pediatrician recommended David return to have blood work and a chest x-ray done in order to rule out something more serious. David’s family was relieved when this testing revealed no abnormalities or indication of leukemia. Believing that David was conceivably healthy, David and his family returned to their daily lives, thankful that David was “okay,” despite still not having an explanation for his enlarged lymph node in his neck. David’s mom, a registered nurse, was unsettled. She took David to his dentist to rule out an abscessed tooth or other dental explanation–negative. David was referred to a pediatric surgeon for further evaluation and possible biopsy. Upon examination and further testing, the surgeon originally believed that David’s neck swelling might be due to an enlarged salivary gland, so she sent David for a CT scan and ultrasound. These tests came back negative, and a biopsy was recommended. Previously, David’s family had not been quick to “rush” into a biopsy unless recommended, knowing that it required general anesthesia, and was a delicate operation close to vital nerves and blood vessels in the neck. David’s mom vividly recalls the surgeon’s recommendation on the telephone, “it is probably best, at this point, to go ahead with the biopsy just to rule out any very remote possibility that this is something serious like lymphoma.” On December 5, 2014, David underwent an excisional biopsy of his right deep posterior cervical lymph node. It was a long weekend waiting for biopsy results, which were far from what anyone had expected over these many months of investigation…David had Hodgkin Lymphoma. David recalls the day he learned of his diagnosis:David 2

I remember that day. I was upstairs doing my homework, and the doctor called. My dad is a nephrologist, and was able to look up my biopsy results himself. He already knew.

Four days after Christmas, David started chemotherapy. He underwent an intermediate risk protocol of 4 cycles of chemotherapy, each cycle lasting 21 days, at Lurie Children’s Hospital/Clinics at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield. David, a remarkable kid known for never succumbing to the challenges thrown his way, battled his cancer for 4 trying months. His mother was constantly by his side fighting with him, having been granted a leave of absence from her job as a school nurse in order to care for her son. David’s chemo was successful, and on April 27, 2014 a PET scan officially determined that David was in complete remission. David remarks on his remission saying:

[When I found out I was in remission], I was overjoyed. I wasn’t as overjoyed as I should have been because I had this sense that what if it comes back. I feel like that will always be in the back of my mind.

Now 13 years old and cancer-free, David reflects back on hardships he went through just a few months ago. Thinking back to the time he found out he had cancer, David says, “at first, it didn’t affect me much; I just thought it’d be a little thing– i didn’t think it’d be too big of a deal. I was sad and shocked and I didn’t expect it. I was upset and sad.”  Nonetheless, upon hearing his diagnosis, David remained resilient, determined not to let cancer change his life. He continued to attend school with his classmates as much as his body would allow. David remarks on his journey with unbridled optimism saying:

Know that eventually the suffering will be over. If your life goes down, it will always go back up.

David’s profound words resonate with anyone going through a struggle–a reminder that there is, indeed, always a light at the end of the tunnel.

Today, like most 13 year old kids, David is focused on being a kid– he just completed 7th grade, is an A student, and enjoys playing baseball, tennis, and riding his longboard (skateboard). Not only is David an athlete, but he’s a gifted musician. David plays the violin for his school orchestra and despite chemotherapy (and a hospital stay 2 days earlier), was able to help his orchestra place 1st in a State competition this past April. David’s mother gives sound advice when it comes to facing difficult diagnoses like her son’s. “Follow your gut instincts, and never give up searching for answers if something doesn’t seem right. Be your child’s own best advocate by educating yourself,” David’s mother says. Having a wealth of knew knowledge after dealing with David’s cancer, David’s mother adds the importance of taking your child to their pediatrician annually for a wellness exam. She is thankful that she did!

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David is the Light the Night Honored Hero for Rockford, Illinois. Rockford’s Light the Night will take place on Saturday, October 10 in Loves Park/ Martin Park. Check in is at 4:30 P.M. and the walk begins at 6:15 P.M. For more information and to register for Light the Night, visit http://www.lightthenight.org/il/.

Kristen Comer Light The Night Honored Hero

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In the fKristen Comer 2all of 2012, Kristen Comer noticed her energy level wasn’t as high as it had been, but she thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until the fall of 2013 when Kristen had unidentifiable bruises on her body and no change in her energy levels, that her general practitioner drew labs to determine a diagnosis. After three panels of blood work, Kristen was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) on December 31, 2013.

Kristen’s diagnosis felt all too familiar because her grandfather passed away from Multiple myeloma shortly after his diagnosis, and her father is a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor. Kristen had even attended a presentation on the opening of SwedishAmerican Regional Cancer Center where she’d later be treated. Kristen is currently taking the LLS-funded drug Tasigna (Tasigna is also being tested for patients with breast, head-and-neck, pancreatic, prostate, liver and lung cancers).

Kristen knew that the most important part in her journey was to keep a positive attitude. She began blogging on her caringbridge site and documenting every moment of her journey. Kristen even videotaped her car ride to the doctor’s office before she was diagnosed with CML.

“It isn’t about sending (or receiving) a card, it’s about instilling a positive thought when you’re newly diagnosed”

Kristen chooses to be open with her family and friends about her progress and accept her diagnosis for what it is. She’s also taken her journey as an opportunity to spread awareness to others through social media and speaking engagements.  Kristen shares with other newly diagnosed patients that it’s important to ask for help, surround yourself with positive people, and embrace your cancer when you’re ready. Kristen reflects on how the relationships in her life have become more significant since being diagnosed.Kristen Comer Picture

“My daughter’s laughter goes into a place in my heart I never knew existed before my cancer diagnosis”

Kristen first heard about the Light the Night when her dad was diagnosed with cancer. However, Kristen decided to participate in the walk herself when she was diagnosed and started receiving services from the LLS. Kristen says her favorite part of the walk was the lantern raising. Next year, she and LLS hope that there are more survivors, and more white lanterns raised.

Kristen is the Light the Night Honored Hero for Rockford, IL. Rockford’s  Light the Night will take place on Saturday, October 10 in Loves Park/ Martin Park. Check in is at 4:30 P.M. and the walk begins at 6:15 P.M. at each location. For more information and to register for Light the Night, visit http://www.lightthenight.org/il/.