How a childhood leukemia and sarcoma diagnosis shaped my career

Before I was diagnosed with cancer in June 1998, I wanted to be a
princess, a teacher or a veterinarian.

Instead, I became a registered nurse at MD Anderson Children’s
Cancer Hospital
— the place that saved my life. And it’s all
because of the outstanding care I received here as a child.

Dual diagnosis: granulocytic sarcoma and acute myeloid leukemia

My cancer story began the summer after first grade. At the time, my
life seemed idyllic: I was learning golf with my dad, earning badges
as a Brownie Girl Scout and playing soccer. Little did I know what
life had in store for me.

One day I was watching TV with my mom, and I mentioned that I could
see two television sets. Concerned, she called over a neighbor who was
an optometrist and another who was a nurse. They noticed my left eye
was crossed inward and told her to get me to a doctor right away.

After examining me, my ophthalmologist promptly referred us to a
neurologist. Later, he told us he could actually see a tumor pressing
against my optic nerve, but the scans ordered by the neurologist
confirmed it: I had granulocytic sarcoma — a very rare type of tumor — in my head,
as well as acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

A unique childhood cancer treatment plan

Granulocytic sarcoma is usually found in the abdominal area of
adults after they’ve been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia,
so it was unusual for me to have both at age 7 — and for the tumor to
be in my brain.

A few days after my diagnosis, I had surgery to remove the tumor at
a hospital near Galveston, Texas. The procedure went well, but after
three different people told my parents I should see pediatric
oncologist David G. Tubergen, M.D. (now retired) at MD Anderson, they decided to bring me here for
the rest of my treatment.

Because my diagnosis was so unique, Dr. Tubergen put together a new
combination of chemotherapy drugs for me. Some were normally used
to treat brain tumors, and some were normally used to
treat AML. The first round went fine. But after the second round, I
developed a 103-degree fever that kept rising, and I had to be
readmitted to the hospital.