B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL)
Just two weeks into my junior year of high school, I was pulled out of class at lunch and packed a small overnight bag, not realizing I wouldn’t return to school for the entire year.
My name is Nicole, and in 2022, I celebrated the 10-year anniversary of that life-altering day.
I am a leukemia survivor. I was diagnosed in 2012 at 16 years old. The summer leading into my junior year of high school, I experienced excruciating back pain. As a tri-varsity athlete, we thought it was from overuse playing sports. Then, on the first day of field hockey tryouts, while I was usually one of the fastest on the team, I could barely do five sprints because I was so out of breath. That night I noticed several clusters of purple dots on my body. I went to my pediatrician first thing the next morning, and within a couple of hours, my blood tests came back indicating leukemia. For those familiar with leukemia, there were 95% blasts in my blood. I was told to go to Yale New Haven’s emergency room immediately. They were waiting for me at Yale. We entered a new world, the world of cancer.
After two rounds of heavy-dose chemotherapy for my B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL), I was able to leave the hospital and go home, but the night before my third round of chemo, I collapsed. Yale rushed a special ambulance down (it was too windy that night for the medevac, but that’s how serious it was). By the time I arrived at Yale, my blood pressure was 60/30. I was in septic shock, and with a compromised immune system, my body could not fight the infection. The doctors in the pediatric ICU worked all night to save me, pumping 13 liters of fluid into me. But two days later, my body began to fail again, and I was placed into a medically induced coma.
Over the course of 10 days, my parents were told three times to prepare for me not to survive. Then, after two weeks, I slowly came out of my coma except that I had suffered two strokes ― one on either side of my brain ― and couldn’t move a muscle in my body. Fortunately, despite all this, I was in remission. I was transferred to a rehab facility where I relearned how to walk, talk, and regain other basic life skills like brushing my teeth. And you know what I looked at every day in my hospital room? A massive The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) Light The Night (LTN) banner with “Team Nicole” splashed across it. My friends had created a team in my honor and signed it with the sweetest notes of encouragement. Two months later, I literally danced out of the hospital to resume my life and to aggressively fight B-ALL, undergoing more than two years of continuous treatment.
The following fall, my friends were back at LTN, but this time I was with them as the event’s honoree. I walked with my friends, and boy, did that mean a lot to me. The following year, I was off to my dream college, Dartmouth, and completed my chemotherapy treatment. Life was good. In my senior year, I ran a half-marathon, celebrating five years of being cancer-free. But just three months later, I relapsed. However, the innovations that occurred in the blood cancer space in those five years since I was first diagnosed were incredible. I prepared for a bone marrow transplant at Memorial Sloan Kettering and underwent a 30-day continuous round of immunotherapy just approved by the FDA. That immunotherapy and my relatively seamless experience with the bone marrow transplant were all possible because of therapies supported by LLS that led me to be able to be here today. Now I continue to support LLS, being the honored speaker at the LTN Hudson Westchester Hudson Valley in 2022 and serving alongside my dad on the executive committee.