My name is Kayla and I live in Phoenix, Arizona and was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia (APML) on my 27th birthday in November 2017. When my oncologist was discussing my diagnosis with my family and me, she said that this type of cancer is not genetic, not due to any environmental factors, but was “just bad luck.” Imagine my feelings of luck having this diagnosis come on my birthday!
My luck seemed to continue after finding out the induction phase of my type of cancer has to be done in the hospital. I had to spend the next month, at least, in the hospital attached to a heart rate monitor while I received my first of 35 doses of chemo. Those 38 days in the hospital were rough -- anyone who has spent any time in a hospital knows the terrible cafeteria food, the constant beeping of machines attached to you, the lack of privacy, are all hard to handle. Not to mention, I had to receive my daily chemotherapy drugs in the middle of the night! They started at about 10 p.m. each night, and had an infusion time of 4 to 5 hours. So, to keep it short, my nights were long with little to no sleep. What luck!
After spending 38 days in the hospital, I was finally discharged and allowed to go home and spend the holidays with my family. The day I was discharged was bittersweet. I felt a sense of anxiety going into the “real world” again with the fear of infection or something going wrong. Of course, I was very happy to go home, sleep in my own bed, and try to feel normal again. In the days after my hospital release, I wanted to do all the normal things my family does around Christmas time. I wanted to go Christmas shopping, bake cookies, decorate the Christmas tree, and even go ice-skating. My oncologist said I could do all these things, I’d just have to wear a mask and try to protect myself from germs as my immune system was not in the best shape. So, my mom took me Christmas shopping. After a long morning of the mall (at Christmas time, YIKES!), we went to one of my favorite restaurants for lunch -- how lucky!
All morning I had a weird feeling in my mouth, typical for anyone getting chemotherapy. It was dry and felt almost numb. I never said anything because I just figured it was due to the 35 bags of chemo drugs my body had just absorbed. When my lunch finally came to our table, I had to take my mask off for the first time that day. When I took it off and went in for a bite, my food didn’t make it into my mouth. It seemed that one side of my face was completely numb. My mom immediately freaked out, saying now that my mask was off, she was able to see the drooping of one side of my face! I couldn’t move my lip, nose, eye, eyebrow, or cheek on my left side. So, as you can imagine, we started to panic.
We immediately called my oncologist; thinking of course this had an explanation. She told us to go to the ER as soon as we could. I couldn’t believe I had to head back to that hospital.
In the ER, the doctor determined I was NOT having a stroke, THANK GOD, but was having symptoms of Bell’s palsy. The ER doctor saw my huge file of recent medical history and that I had just been released from a pretty lengthy stay at this very hospital. He told me that Bell’s palsy is not very common and not a typical side effect from cancer treatment. He said that it was “just bad luck.” Like I hadn’t heard that before, 39 days before.
Luckily, my Bell’s palsy went away after two weeks. I also was thankful that I had a reason to wear a mask so that I could cover up the silly look on my face. Looking back on all I dealt with during my cancer fight, the Bell’s palsy seems minor -- just a small bump in the road that has given us a lot to laugh at looking back at it. Whenever I think of how “unlucky” I thought I was during that time, I remember how truly lucky I am every day because I am alive to tell this story.