She wrote the book on breast cancer. She leads the Army of Women. She is a surgeon and research scientist specializing in breast cancer. And now, Dr. Susan Love can add "cancer survivor" to her list of titles.
In June of 2012, Dr. Susan Love found out that she had acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). She hadn't been having health problems, but routine bloodwork revealed the fast-growing blood cancer. This high-energy, tireless fighter suddenly faced her own life-threatening illness. Having helped many patients with cancer didn't soften the blow of diagnosis for her.
"There is a sense of shock when it happens to you," said Dr. Love. "In some ways I would have been less shocked if I got breast cancer because it's so common, but getting leukemia was a world I didn't know." Diagnosed at age 65, she had to start dealing with the emotions that her patients had been dealing with for years. She didn't feel brave and invincible. "Even when you're a physician, when you get shocking news like this you sort of forget everything you know and are scared the same as everybody else."
Dr. Love blogged about her illness and the swell of support that came her way. "It is one thing to be diagnosed with cancer. It is quite another to know that thousands of women and men have me in their thoughts as I embark on my personal journey to cancer survivorship."
Leukemia treatment was started, with chemotherapy. But Love's blood counts did not rebuild as expected. The next move was more drastic. Since her disease had damaged her bone marrow - the critical substance that produces blood - Love needed a bone marrow transplant (BMT). Fortunately, her younger sister could provide a good match as a marrow donor. Before a BMT, powerful chemo drugs are given to kill off the patient's own faulty bone marrow. Then the donor's marrow is infused into the patient. After that, the patient's body begins to accept - or reject - the donated cells. Recovery is a long and carefully monitored process.
Dr. Love is doing better now and living in remission. She has some pain and neuropathy from the chemo and her immune system isn't quite up to par yet. Her sensibly short haircut is even shorter right now, but her feisty spirit is in full evidence. She recently blogged, "If I were to encapsulate in one word what my recent experience with leukemia has inspired, I would have to say impatience. I have been talking for years about the collateral damage that patients experience from cancer treatments and now I know them first hand. They are not acceptable!" She wants to get down to the cause of breast cancer and begin to create "true prevention." Cheers for Dr. Susan Love - she appears to be ready to double-up on her search for a world without breast cancer!
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