My name is Ashley Pyon and I am a 27-year old, 2x cancer warrior! I am currently battling Acute Myeloid Leukemia for the second time in my life at Stanford Cancer Center.
I was first diagnosed with AML back in 2013, when I was 23 years old. I was working at a non-profit organization fresh out of university when I was hit with the news that I had cancer. I was diagnosed as an intermediate risk of relapse, so a bone marrow transplant would have been ideal, but the transplant team at Stanford could not find a perfect donor match for me. I responded so well to the chemotherapy treatments that my oncologist decided that giving me more chemotherapy would be worth the risk to see if I would stay in remission that way instead of looking into other transplant options. I received a total of 31 rounds of high-dose chemotherapy over a period of 5 months and I went into remission.
The reality of the situation back then didn't really phase me much - I think it all happened so fast and I was really young and naive about anything cancer-related. I also felt like a floated through treatment too easily, and before I knew it, I was back on my feet and getting back to my regular life.
I worked for a while in the Bay Area while living with my parents, until an opportunity came up for me to live in Florida. By this time, I had been in remission for 2 years and most relapses occur within the first 2 years after achieving first remission, so I felt safe enough to move across the country to Florida. I discussed my plan with my oncologist, who agreed I should be fine, and I made the move in July 2015.
Fast forward to April 2017, I got really sick and showed flu-like symptoms that would not dissipate for over 2 weeks. I finally made my way to a doctor and got a blood test done, which showed signs of leukemia. I was referred to a hematologist who did a bone marrow biopsy and confirmed that I had relapsed with AML. I was devastated. This was my worst fear happening in real life. Getting my relapse diagnosis was 100x worse than getting my original diagnosis back in 2013. This meant my cancer was aggressive and I needed to start treatment ASAP.
That same day my relapse was confirmed, I said my goodbyes to my boyfriend, my pug, and all my work friends and booked the next flight out to California. I knew I would need a great support system while battling leukemia a second time, so I needed to be with my family in the Bay Area.
I was admitted into Stanford immediately and began my induction chemotherapy. My body has responded fairly well to the induction chemo, which is a great relief, but with a leukemia relapse, a transplant is necessary to achieve full remission. Recently, the Stanford Bone Marrow Transplant team has confirmed that there is still no perfect adult donor match for me in the registry, so I will be participating in a clinical trial that involves getting a double-umbilical cord transplant. As of now, my tentative transplant date is set for August 11, 2017. Before that though, I still have a lot of treatment steps to get through, including more chemotherapy and total body irradiation.
I am extremely lucky to have amazing support from my work in Florida - they have worked with the insurance company to change my insurance type so that my treatments in Stanford are eligible for coverage, and I am so incredibly grateful! However, I have realized that I still have a lot of out-of-pocket fees and transportation fees (gas, bridge toll, parking) have been adding up. My parents take turns taking time off work to take me to my multiple appointments at the Cancer Center every single week and this will continue well after my transplant (possibly for the entire year after while my immune system needs help getting back to a healthy state).
Since I'm not able to work and need to focus on my health for an extended period of time, the out-of-pocket medical expenses and all the travel expenses are being paid for by my parents. My parents make a very modest living and I hate putting any financial burden on them. I would really appreciate any help via donations to help our family fight cancer for the second time together.
Thank you so much for reading my story and considering donating! If you're feeling extra generous, please also consider joining the bone marrow donor registry at bethematch.org to help cure blood diseases once and for all!
Also, if you would like to see updates on my treatment progress, you can follow me on my instagram "pppyyyooonnn" as I post on there every few days!