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  • Leukemia Awareness Month
    Added by My Identity Doctor

    As Burton investigated, September is a busy month for awareness!

    September is Leukemia Awareness Month. I am unsure if this is a unique sentiment to myself, but I often perceive leukemia [and probably other forms of blood cancer, I’m at this point simply the most familiar with leukemia] as slightly different from other cancers. Instead of forming as a tumor in a certain area of the body, the cells that are often perceived as dangerous—“cancer cells”—are actually not cells that are abnormal within our bodies.

    Okay, I know—EXPLAIN HOW! (The Simpsons fans, did you get that reference? )

    Simple enough to explain: in other cancers, abnormal cells develop and divide uncontrollably, thus causing growths called tumors on organs (skin, lungs, within the gastrointestinal system, etcetera). In leukemia, however, white blood cells (known as leukocytes, thus the name leukemia) are the cells that multiply uncontrollably and cause problems. This causes one of two things—the bone marrow (which produces blood cells) becomes overcrowded with white blood cells and thus is unable to make healthy cells—this happens relatively quickly, causing these cells to spill into the blood stream and enabling them to spread to other organs. The second is that, over months or years, white blood cells reproduce at higher rates than normal—this results in chronic leukemia, which is often monitored for some time before treatment is started.

    Leukemia Bracelet

    Like other forms of cancer, leukemia often presents with vague symptoms—the person is likely to become anemic and exhibit these symptoms: tiredness and bruising easily. Because white blood cells take up the room of platelets (cells that prevent the body from bleeding uncontrollably with injury through aiding in blood clotting), even small cuts may bleed excessively because the cells involved in this process have been overtaken by white blood cells. Typically, white blood cells are responsible for attacking germs within the body and keeping us healthy. Simply, a person with leukemia may just not feel well in a very unspecific way—tiredness, headaches, fevers and night sweats are common in people with blood cancers. This can also lead to weight loss. Leukemia can develop at any age—while not the rule, acute types most often develop in children and adolescents and chronic types develop in older adults. Leukemia is diagnosed through blood tests and bone marrow aspiration.

    In order to treat leukemia, the excessive amounts of white blood cells and abnormally acting cells in the bone marrow must be returned to normal—this is done with chemotherapy and radiation. In some cases, the best chance for a full remission (cancer-free status) is through bone marrow transplant, in which all leukemia cells must be destroyed by intensive chemotherapy and radiation, and a healthy donor’s cells are transfused into the person’s body to replace the dysfunctional bone marrow cells. Donors must be compatible with the individual’s own cells (similar to blood-typing but with more variables), and the recipient must take anti-rejection medications for life to ensure that their disease stays in remission and their immune system does not attack the transplanted cells.

    I find often that in order to truly gain an awareness of a disease, simply reading about it isn’t enough. Below is the trailer for the Dear Jack documentary—I’ve watched the full movie dozens of times. At twenty-two, Andrew McMahon (from the bands Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin) is diagnosed with leukemia the very same day he finishes mastering the first Jack’s Mannequin album . . . and everything from that moment forward is captured on the camera that the record label gave him to capture the recording process.

    For more information on leukemia, Andrew’s story (including the Dear Jack foundation to support adolescents and young adults with cancer), explore further at the links below:
    Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (USA / Canada)
    Dear Jack – the film
    The Dear Jack Foundation
    Andrew McMahon
    OneMatch Bone Marrow Donor Program
    (Canadian Blood Services)
    Be The Match (National Marrow Donor Program – United States)
    Download Free Awareness Ribbon

    Published by My Identity Doctor on September 14, 2013


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