Hello, I’m Diana Anzola Luchessi a 31-year old Venezuelan living in Dominican Republic for the last 5 years.
On December 2017, my husband and I decided to get a better insurance as we were celebrating our 4th wedding anniversary and decided I was time for expanding our family.
That Christmas we went to Colombia, there is when I started to feel tired. At first I thought it was because of the trip (moving the suitcases, walking through the city, etc.) but then I started to feel worse and I felt I got an UTI so I took some medicine to calm the all those symptoms. By January 9th, 2018, we were back in Dominican Republic the tiredness and the UTI symptoms came back so I decided to go to my primary doctor. He prescribed me painkillers, a full blood test and send me home. Two days after when the results came back all the viruses and diseases tests came back negative, I just had the white blood cells increased by 46,000, so he urged me to go to an Hematologist. At first I didn’t know what all that did mean but deep inside I knew something big was happening.
Two days later I went to the hematologist, to be told that I had 90% chances to have leukemia and that I needed a bone marrow biopsy to get a confirmed diagnosed. I felt like a train just hit me, but I knew I had to keep going and fight. The doctor then told me that if I had an insurance it would be better for me to receive treatment in US as DR doesn’t have a unit specialized in leukemia nor stem cell transplants.
So the next day I came to Miami, FL. And got checked in at the Sylvester Cancer Comprehensive, by now the white blood cells had increased by 82,000. A few days later I got the bone marrow biopsy just to confirm I had AML (a cancer of the myeloid line of blood cells, characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal cells that build up in the bone marrow and blood and interfere with normal blood cells).
I went through the induction chemotherapy and everything was going great, I loved the hospital and the staff was very friendly. A few weeks later I got the genetics results, I got 5 mutations one them FLT3. My doctors explained what this meant and immediately suggested the stem cell transplant.
Immediately my brother and sister came to Miami to get the HLA typing, I was told that the chances to be 100% match with a full sibling is just 25% and that is very hard to find donors for mixed-race people. As I have Venezuelan and Italian heritage I got very concerned. But thankfully my brother resulted full match and I got my transplant scheduled for April the 30th 2018.
My brother’s process was very simple, 4 days prior the transplant he started to get one shot of Filgrastim per day to increase the number of stem cells and to get them into the blood stream, this injection made him feel a little tired and bone pain. At this time, I was checked in the hospital receiving a high-dose chemotherapy in order to “clean” my bone marrow and make space for the new one I was going to receive.
On April the 30th my brother got admitted in the hospital and got connected to this machine and started the collection process called apheresis. It just took 3 hours to get all the necessary stem cells collected, he then went to the 4th floor where I was admitted to watch the stem cell transplant process. I was attached to the vitals machine and the nurse started the infusion, It just took 1 hour until the process was done. (see video attached)
The days after the transplant I felt horrible, a lot of nauseas, diarrhea, headache, ulcers in my mouth and throat, and so on. A week later I was feeling better and that’s when the engraftment happened, I officially had my brothers stem cells working inside me and now we were twins. All my doctors were amazed the quickness of my evolution so three days later I got dismissed from the hospital.
It’s been 135 days since my transplant and It’s been like a rollercoaster, some days I feel tired, some days I have plenty of energy, but every day I feel lucky and blessed that I got a second chance to live thanks to my donor. This is an unimaginable feeling!
I know I still got more to go and I’m looking forward to it, because I know I’m going to overcome this chapter for good, but I’m ready to share my story and create awareness to help save more lives.