Isolation and return to work hardest parts of her journey
By Patrice Stewart
The phone call to her principal seems almost comical now.
“I think I’m going to be out of school for three weeks — I’ve got leukemia,” Amy Hill said. But the teacher missed a year and a half, returning to the classroom in fall 2005.
She started with 28 days in the hospital, beginning the day in February 2003 when they diagnosed acute myelogenous leukemia.
“The doctor walked with me over to the hospital — Crestwood in Huntsville. That was very traumatic, because you think you’re going to go home and wash dishes and pack your bags,” Hill said.
But her numbers were so low they had to start treatment immediately to bring the white blood cell count up. “They had to get me into remission before anything else, so I had induction chemotherapy during those 28 days.” Then she had three more rounds of consolidated chemo, usually with reactions, followed by super chemo before her stem cell transplant.
Hill was patient No. 101 for a stem cell transplant at Clearview Cancer Institute in Huntsville.
“Because I had no brothers or sisters, the doctors said I could not have a bone marrow transplant,” she said.
They thought this auto stem cell transplant was the safest for her.
“They took my own stem cells, harvested them and froze them, and gave me seven days of super chemo — as much as you can give to a person,” she said. “When my numbers went down to nearly zero, they returned them to me. They are God’s creations and they knew where to go and what to do, and they renewed my bone marrow.”
She was very sick, “but I was very lucky and only in the hospital three days at that point, when they told me to expect 30 days,” she said.
Some people might not consider 30 days of isolation lucky. She had to stay alone in their upstairs room with bath and not see her children, friends or other visitors.
Her husband, Bryan, was the only one she could see during the isolation period.
While the rest of the family ate food brought by church and school friends, “he had to specially prepare my food hot, in single servings, no eating out, no leftovers, nothing out of a jar, so there was no risk of bacteria,” she said.
Many men might think cooking was tough, but he said it was “dealing with all the medical stuff and hospitals. We’ve had it so much better than a lot of people, though.”
Staying in touch by cell phone helped, because daughters Emily, 14, and Carrie, 12, really missed getting to see their mother while she was in isolation, as well as during her 80 or so days in and out of the hospital before the stem-cell transplant.
Hill was released from isolation just in time for Thanksgiving, with more than ever to be thankful about.
In another field, she might have gone back to work earlier, but her doctor considered school a “germ factory,” so she had to wait another six months.
For Hill, it was tough “not being able to be the person I had been, the mother I’d been, and the teacher I’d been.”
Life is slowly getting back to normal. “My doctor was very upset when I went on a church mission trip to Belize, but he was even more upset about the post-Katrina one to New Orleans,” she said.
Today, she said, she is grateful that “my numbers are normal in every category, and I only have to go to the doctor every three months.”
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