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B's Battle With Therapy Related AML

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Ten years ago, on August 1st 2012, my mother, Bess "B" (52 years old at the time), was diagnosed with stage 3 HER2+ breast cancer. At this stage of breast cancer, the disease has already spread to your lymph nodes and the day that she was diagnosed, she was told that she would not survive the treatment. Can you imagine how that feels? Something you should know about B, however is that she is a total badass and she looked that doctor right in the eye and said, "Watch me". Now, keep in mind, it had only been 10 months since her last mammogram, so in 10 months, the disease developed and invaded her lymph nodes. Fast forward 10 days and she was in her first chemo treatment, which lasted 8 hours because they could not access her port due to an infection, so her first 2 chemo treatments went through the veins in her arm. After successfully completing 10 rounds of chemo (the strongest chemo cocktail they could offer), she underwent a double mastectomy and 32 radiation treatments. After all of this, my mother was successfully declared in remission!! Victory! Over the last 10 years she has seen me get married, her 2 grandsons be born, her eldest daughter (my sister) find a home that she loves and has had more laughs than could ever be counted.
      Unfortunately, happy times don't always last. On September 6th of this year, just 3 weeks ago, mom left work for what we didn't know would be the last time. She wasn't feeling well that day and told the ladies in her office that she wouldn't be in to work the next day. She was feeling sick with a cough, fever and just overall exhaustion. The following 3 days she rested, took the general OTC meds, was tested multiple times for FLU, Covid and Strep, but everything kept coming back negative. On Friday, September 9th (my little ones 4th birthday), she decided to go back to the clinic just one more time because "maybe it's bronchitis". As soon as she got there and they ran her vitals, they quickly saw that she needed to go to the ER because her oxygen was so low. When she got to the ER, they immediately began general tests and scans and found her to have double bacterial pneumonia, but they also found that something was "off" in her lab work. Her white blood cell count wasn't normal and someone in the ER said, "Ms. Bess, do you have leukemia?" You can imagine our shock and almost outrage that someone would just blurt that out. Unfortunately, the next morning, their suspicion was right and mom was diagnosed with AML, acute myloid leukemia. Now, you may be wondering, 'Tracey, what does this have to do with breast cancer?' Whelp...her breast cancer is what caused her to now have AML...10 years later. How is this even possible? Answer is...the chemo that she was on during her breast cancer treatment caused us to be living in this new hell. Upon realizing how aggressive her AML is, her doctors have forced her into retirement, which you can imagine would be exciting...if done on your own terms. Since her diagnosis, she has undergone a PICC line placement, 2 blood transfusions, a bone marrow biopsy and 3 rounds of chemo. We have also had a consultation with the doctor who will be performing her bone marrow transplant before the end of the year and while he was so very kind, he was also honest. Her bone marrow biopsy will be...BRUTAL. She will be hospitalized for about 5 weeks and while it is such a blessing that science has progressed to where bone marrow transplants are even possible, it is also scary as hell. Once the transplant is complete, 3 things can happen. One, she kicks ass and we walk away from this happy and healthy. Two, her new immune system, the donor's immune system, sees her body as an invader and it attacks her own body. This process is known has GVHD, graft versus host disease. It will then shut down her organs and she will have a MAJOR battle on her hands. Third, her body will respond well and all the leukemia cells will be destroyed with the exception of a few. Her AML will return and at that point, the doctor says it is "game over".
      All of this to say breast cancer has now turned my life upside down twice in a 10 year time span. B is not only my mother, but she also lives with me, my husband and my 2 boys. We built a house and moved in 4 months ago and have been so excited for all the fun things to come. My boys, Duncan and Henry, ages 4 and 6, are doing their best to understand B's sickness. My best way to explain it to them..."Remember me telling you how B's boobies got sick and she had to have them taken away? Well, now B's blood is sick. She doesn't have any fighters in her blood, so we have to be extra careful in keeping B healthy." Let me tell ya, keeping 2 little boys away from their best friend/roommate is not an easy task.
Lastly, it is important for you to know that as of December 31st of this year, my mother will no longer have health insurance. Tennessee has a "Continuation of Benefits" which will cover her from when her health insurance terminates on September 30th to the end of the year. After that, she is on her own unless she can get on TennCare. Anything donated is so, SO appreciated. If you cannot donate however, please send us your prayers, positive vibes and consider joining the National Bone Marrow Registry at


  • Anonymous
    • $100 
    • 10 mos
  • Barry Tamburin
    • $100 
    • 10 mos
  • Tammy Helm
    • $50 
    • 10 mos
  • Susan and Mickey Trailov
    • $200 
    • 11 mos
  • Monica Nolan
    • $50 
    • 11 mos

Organizer and beneficiary

Tracey Hightower
Gallatin, TN
Mary Bess Duncan

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