Northside Hospital - Face Leukemia Story - Courtney




It was the beginning of November 2012. I was finishing up nursing school and had one month left of classes. I just completed a nursing practicum shift when my preceptor saw a big bruise I had on my arm. I told her about several other large bruises I had and we had an ICU doctor who was currently on the floor take a peak. He asked me to have blood work done immediately. Luckily, I was just across the street from Northside so I called a friend to meet me in the ER expecting that they would do a blood test, tell me I was anemic and send me on my way home.

My hemoglobin was very low and I was immediately transfused with two units of blood. At that point, I was told they would keep me for observation overnight. To give you a better idea of how no one around me thought this would be anything serious, I had a room full of friends that brought pizza and we just hung out most of the night.

The next day, I was given my diagnosis. My parents had just moved to Jacksonville, FL so two family friends came to stay with me for the day. No one knew quite what was about to happen. I remember a doctor coming in and saying that they found abnormal cells in my blood sample. The nurse in me knew what that meant. About an hour later another doctor came in and finally said the word "leukemia" and told me that I was being immediately transferred to the BMT unit. I think I went into a bit of shock when they told me I would be here for about a month for chemo. I wasn't allowed to go home to pack any clothes and they scheduled a bone marrow biopsy first thing the next morning and chemo starting the following night as well. Those first few days I was in a state of shock. I don't think I fully grasped what having leukemia meant. I just processed each task or event as it came.


I had a wonderful team at Northside. I remember my first night on the inpatient BMT unit and a nurse pulled a chair up to my bed at 3 am and went over all of my labs and what they meant. I knew she had to have had other patients, but she sat there and made sure my Mom and I knew everything that was about to happen. It was amazing.

The genetics of my leukemia showed that a transplant would my best option. I completed several rounds of chemotherapy, total body irradiation and a stem cell transplant. I was fortunate that my little brother was a match and became my donor.


During my recovery phases, it was really hard to be separated from the world, or so it felt. Due to my weakened immune system I was unable to be around crowds. I went to the clinic most days, but if I wasn't there, I had to stay at home. Let’s just say, you can only binge-watch Netflix for so long without catching cabin fever. My Mom and I got creative with trying to stay busy while trying to keep me at home.


After my transplant in February 2013, my fiancé and I got a dog to keep me company during my recovery. We got married here in Atlanta and bought a house. And earlier this year I started my dream job as a pediatric hematology/oncology nurse. Looking back, I remember this one sign that my mom gave me to hang in my hospital room that said “Today, I will be happier than a bird with a French fry." I remember seeing that every day, especially on days that chemo was hitting hard and it helped me get out of bed. Cancer doesn't have to take your happiness. There were still things to laugh and smile about every day and life will go on after cancer. It's just a bump in the road.

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