HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- When you hear the word cancer, you probably think about breast, lung, colon, or prostate cancer. But every year, thousands of people in the U.S. are diagnosed with a disease that involves cancer in the blood. Many of those are Leukemia cases. The best chance for a cure is a bone marrow transplant. But with thousands of patients needing one, it’s hard to find donors.
Leslie Vallely is looking for her match. “I had a little dry cough that would not go away and it lasted about 6 or 8 weeks,” says Leslie. She never thought a common sinus infection would turn out to be something much more serious. She added, “I thought oh maybe it’s my thyroid, maybe it’s the sinus infection that won’t go away.”
It turns out, the problem was her blood. In 1999, Leslie told us she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. “And then in March of this year, I was diagnosed with Leukemia, ALL, and that was a complete surprise because I think the chances of that were pretty low that that would ever happen.”
Leslie was diagnosed with Acute Lymphomatic Leukemia, commonly known as ALL. It was an unexpected illness, but she knew what she had to do. “Once you’re diagnosed with Leukemia, it’s very important to start treatment immediately and so I went in the hospital for about 26 days.” Leslie continued, “We treated me with high dose chemotherapy and then we did that the first month and then I’ve been doing treatment since then.”
After five rounds of chemotherapy, she’s in remission. Months ahead of schedule, the leukemia cells are gone. She wants to keep it that way. She told me, “I know that the cure, the really ultimate cure is the bone marrow transplant.”
Dr. Marshall Schreeder says, “You get through the first 90 days, your odds improve. You get through two years and they improve a whole lot more. You make it five years you most likely are cured.” Schreeder is Leslie’s oncologist. He says, “I have patients I’m still checking in on once a year after 20 years and they’re doing well and they’re essentially cured.”
Dr. Schreeder and Leslie decided a bone marrow transplant is the best option for her. And in her eyes, it’s the only option. She says, “There is a strong likelihood that it could return and once you’ve done the high dose chemo and gotten yourself into remission with no Leukemia cells which we know at this moment and this very moment in time, that’s where I am, you certainly don’t want to have to start over.”
Leslie Vallely has fought cancer twice now. She’s a breast cancer survivor. But she sees the disease every day at work. She’s the communications director for Clearview Cancer Institute in Huntsville. She’s also my mom.
CCI is holding a bone marrow drive to help thousands of people across the country like her who are looking for their match. Leslie says the bone marrow drive is crucial. “It may not help me, but if it saves somebody else’s life somewhere else in this country, that is just huge. That’s a gift you cannot, it’s a gift no one else could match.”
The best match could be one of her siblings. She tells us, “I have two brothers and we are testing them, in the process of testing them right now and your siblings ironically are your best chance, your best match and then once you determine if or they’re not a match, then you go to the bone marrow registry to find your match.”
Schreeder adds, “It’s just a simple swab and it could be that you’re never called, most people are never called. But, if you’re called you have the ability to save someone else’s life for very little inconvenience to your own.”
When she finds her match, the road to recovery is still a long journey. Leslie says the number one reason she’s doing the bone marrow transplant and the most important is a cure. She continues, “I have a lot left and so I’ve really got a lot left. I’ve got my family. I’ve got my friends, my coworkers. There’s still so much to do and so that’s the reason I’m doing this. And, it’s going to be just fine.”
CCI will host the bone marrow drive Friday, June 28, for all those who need transplants at its Huntsville and Decatur locations. The hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There's no cost to participate. You’ll be asked to give a cheek swab sample at the drive. It only adds you to the registry. It’s not a donation for a patient.
Visit Be the Match's website for more information about how to join the registry here.
For a full list of the medical qualifications for joining the registry, click here.