By Nikki Ross Inda
Helena Kletch has been singing since middle school. At age 22, she taught herself to play the guitar and quickly became a popular songstress performing at local venues and across the country. She’s even performed on ABC Family’s hit show “The Fosters.”
In November 2018, the rising star’s music career was sidetracked when she started experiencing digestive issues, prolonged episodes of fatigue, night sweats and nausea. Kletch thought it might be an ulcer. But a visit to her doctor turned up something far more serious. Initial tests revealed an abnormally high white blood cell count and a bone marrow biopsy confirmed the diagnosis, acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
“It was really terrifying,” said Kletch. “I spent nearly two weeks Googling AML. All of the statistics are scary when you don’t know how to pick them apart.”
Once Kletch was referred to Moffitt Cancer Center, she said she immediately felt more at ease. “Moffitt made it seem normal because they only treat cancer,” said Kletch. “They gave me a lot of confidence.”
On December 3, 2018, Kletch began chemotherapy aimed at bringing her leukemia under control until a bone marrow transplant could be performed. In February 2019, she was prepared for the transplant with round-the-clock chemotherapy treatments for seven consecutive days, followed by two rounds of consolidated chemo.
“A bone marrow transplant was the only option to save my life,” said Kletch. “I knew it was going to be horrible and uncomfortable, but AML is aggressive. It would likely have killed me without a transplant.”
There was no one better than Kletch’s sister Somali Rose to be her bone marrow donor. Though she was not a perfect match, Rose never thought twice when asked to be her sister’s donor.
“As her big sister, I felt a lot of guilt and just wanted to fix her so badly,” Rose said. “I wanted to take it all away so she wouldn’t have to experience the worry and the difficulties. I wished it was me instead. We’ve always been very close and grew even closer throughout the entire experience. It’s made us see one another in a new light.”
It’s been seven months since Kletch’s bone marrow transplant. The physical and emotional healing has been tough, but she is doing very well.
“My sister is one of the strongest, bravest people I’ve ever met,” beamed Rose. “She always listened to the doctors’ and nurses’ advice for recovery. I am so proud of her.”
Music has been Kletch’s lifeline throughout her cancer journey. She wrote a song called Castaway. During her hospital stay, she wrote a song called “Castaway” and edited together an accompanying music video with her sister.
Though chemotherapy has affected Kletch’s ability to sing, she was determined to get back in the studio and on stage. She’s on the bill for an Ybor City music festival in February 2020 - her first public performance since her cancer diagnosis.
“Moffitt is the most caring and forward-thinking hospital I know,” said Kletch. “I am so grateful for every person who decided to give their life to science and medicine. I want to say thank you to everyone who has made an impact on our lives.”