Working in the film industry, Mabel Barba was used to working 18-hour days. During summer 2016, she began feeling more tired than usual and visited her physician for a checkup. Test results returned normal. After getting pregnant in October 2016, Mabel’s fatigue intensified, but physicians continued to tell her this was normal due to the stress of her job and now new baby – born July 18, 2017. In October 2018, she still found herself easily out of breath, unable to stand at her desk and soon fighting a bout of pneumonia.
Mabel visited a local ER in December 2018 to treat what she thought was a cold. Four days later, on December 26, 2018, Mabel received a phone call from her doctor that she will never forget: Mabel was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a blood and bone marrow cancer. She was promptly referred to Northside Hospital Atlanta.
Within 24 hours, Mabel received a call from a coordinator with The Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT) Program at Northside Hospital Cancer Institute and checked into the hospital two hours later. Nurses there were surprised to see her up and moving as she entered– most leukemia patients who came in didn’t have the energy to walk due to the infection.
“The nurses were incredibly comforting and welcoming,” Mabel said. “Patients like me are in such a vulnerable moment when we enter Northside, but I felt the true support from those nurses since day one.”
Dr. Melhem M. Solh became Mabel’s lead doctor and coordinated her treatment, beginning with induction chemotherapy.
Northside nurses were by her side the whole time. Before she started treatment, the BMT Program coordinator arranged for her to see her daughter – an exception to the routine isolation for patients. On her first day of chemotherapy, another nurse stood by her as the reality of the situation sank in.
“I was so emotional that day, but this nurse cried with me and hugged me several times,” Mabel said. “Each time I was going through a terrible day, all the nurses were very warmhearted and understanding of my emotional pain and fears. They didn’t give up on me, and it made me realize I shouldn’t give up on myself either.”
After five months of chemo, Mabel and her team at Northside finally found a donor, her father. Mabel received a bone marrow transplant on July 8, 2019. As a half-matched recipient, Mabel went through additional high dose chemo after the transplant to combat graft-versus-host disease (GVHD).
Today, Mabel continues to visit the BMT Program at Northside for additional fluids, blood platelets and follow up tests, as part of transplant patients’ crucial, first 100 days post-procedure.
“I think about my regular admittance to the hospital as a sort of timeshare resort, because the staff and services there are so wonderful,” she said.
She’s also learned to value every moment at home with her husband and daughter. Friends and family have been a crucial part of her recovery process, reminding her she can and will get through this.
“If I could tell other patients something, it would be to accept what’s happening. Don’t try to question ‘why me.’ Instead, just move forward and work on getting better.”
*The health story shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50 percent five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions.