Acute Myeloid Leukemia: Stories of Hope - When Nothing is Impossible

Contributed by: Dr Colin Phipps Diong

Imagine being Ester—daughter, friend and businesswoman, in the prime of youth. When the young indonesian entrepreneur began feeling tired and breathless when climbing up the stairs of her home in January 2021, she did not think that anything was amiss.

Ester’s symptoms persisted for over a month. When her mother noticed that she looked unusually pale and learnt about her symptoms, she decided to go see her doctor about her condition.

“I didn’t show any other symptoms, so I did not think too much of it,” recalls Ester. “I thought it was just stress—something normal that I was not too worried about.”

Despite her mother’s concerns, Ester remained optimistic and went to her doctor in Jakarta with a positive attitude in February 2021.

She was ordered to take a blood test, which showed abnormalities in her haemoglobin levels and platelet count. A subsequent biopsy was then carried out, and she was diagnosed to have Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).

According to Dr Colin Phipps Diong, Senior Consultant, Haematology, acute leukemia can be categorised into two main subtypes: Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

Many adult patients will eventually need an allogeneic stem cell transplant to give them a good chance for cure. Some of the important tests that determine the need for transplant must be done before any treatment is started.

The journey for cure in acute leukemia patients involves undergoing treatments to kill leukemia cells prior to transplant, searching for a suitably matched donor for transplant, followed by finding the optimal balance between the desirable and unwanted effects of donor cells.

“When I was diagnosed with leukemia, I was so speechless as I did not anticipate it,” Ester shared.

“I was young, and I had no family history, so how did this happen? “I thought my life would never be the same again. But I knew that life had to go on, and that God had a better plan for me.”

“How can I go abroad during covid-19?”

According to Ester’s doctor in Jakarta, the best course of treatment for AML was to undergo a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, the treatment was not available in Indonesia, and Ester’s best hope of receiving the treatment was to travel to Singapore—right in the middle of COVID-19 border restrictions.

“When I learnt that I had to travel to Singapore, the one thing that came up in my mind was, ‘How can I go abroad during COVID-19?’” said Ester. “I was also not in the right mindset to think about travel visas and travel arrangements.”

Fortunately, Ester’s parents were able to assist her in finding the resources they needed to get her to Singapore. Accompanied by her father, Ester travelled to Singapore feeling disoriented and confused, but optimistic that her fate will overturn based on the positive stories she heard about Singapore’s healthcare system and services.

In Singapore, Ester was given a personalised treatment plan that consists of bone marrow transplant, oral targeted medication and chemotherapy. “This was the first time that I was experiencing something like this,” Ester said. “I didn’t know what to expect. Chemotherapy, for example, was definitely challenging for me because of the side effects such as hair loss and nausea.”

Stronger than yesterday

Despite her initial worries and concerns, Ester set out on her cancer treatment journey feeling optimistic and confident because of the professional, friendly and patient doctors and nurses who uplifted her and encouraged her along the way. With their help, Ester was able to continue her day-to-day life as normally as possible, but with more positive lifestyle modifications such as a healthier diet and more exercise.

“It’s great that I can hang out with my friends and continue working on my business,” shared Ester. “I still cannot do heavy activities, but everyone in my family has given me their full support to help me through what I need.”

Today, Ester is back in Jakarta after nine months of treatment. She continues to take medications daily, and reports her blood test results every week back to her transplant doctor in Singapore.

“I feel stronger than before,” Ester shares. “I still feel tired—though not as easily anymore—but I know it’ll take time. I’m grateful to God for my strength and healing, and I am confident I will get there day by day. Nothing is impossible with God.”

POSTED IN Covid-19, Up Close and Personal
TAGS blood cancer, blood disorders, cancer hair loss, cancer treatment abroad, common side effects of cancer treatment, experience with cancer patient, history of cancer, stem cell therapy
READ MORE ABOUT Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) in Adults, Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML)