By Amanda Brunson
Patient Advisor, Patient and Family Advisory Program
The first time I was diagnosed with cancer, I was a track athlete in college. My shoulder was really killing me, and I had chest and back spasms that took my breath away. Since it was around four in the morning, my mom took me to the nearby firehouse where they checked my heart and did an exam. Everything was fine and they advised me to see the doctor in the morning. When I went to the doctor, I was told I was pushing too hard while working out and to just "take it easy."
My mom told me to see the doctor again after complaining for a week of shoulder pain. The pain was so extreme I could feel the vibration of the music at church on my shoulder. I went to see another doctor at my college clinic, and I told him about the pain in my shoulder and that I had been taking over-the-counter pain relief, but I needed something stronger for the pain. He then looked at me as if I was seeking drugs and told me to take an anti-inflammatory instead.
I took it and the next day I broke out in bruises and little pink rashes all over my body. It was so bad my professor asked me if my boyfriend was abusing me. I went back to the doctor about my symptoms, and he ordered labs to be done that following Monday. Over the weekend, I continued to have intense pain and ended up going to the hospital.
"Everything about having cancer was a challenge but these experiences taught me so much about myself."- Amanda Brunson
The hospital did blood work while the ER doctor gave me pain medicine. When the labs came back the ER doctor tugged on my foot to wake me and told me, "I think you have leukemia," and then left the room. I ended up being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). I was so afraid I was going to die but with my mom’s support and my faith in God, I was able to keep my spirits up. I graduated from my senior year of college while going through intense chemotherapy.
After three and a half years of intense chemotherapy, bone biopsies and spinal taps, I had gotten myself back in shape and decided to go back to competing in track and field. My goal was to try out for the Olympics but then I found out my cancer came back. I started treatment and within a month, I was in remission again.
Then I was sent to Moffitt Cancer Center for my bone marrow transplant. I received my transplant from an unrelated donor who was a 100% match to me on August 26, 2015. I am now five years out and doing amazing!
Cancer was the toughest thing I have had to overcome. You learn who is really going to be there for you. Everything about having cancer was a challenge but these experiences taught me so much about myself. I am so much stronger, wiser, and I have a different outlook on life now.
Love is what got me through my battles, and I appreciate spending time and making memories with my loved ones so much more. We live on borrowed time so use it wisely.