The reality of life and death after a l…


The reality of life and death after a leukemia diagnosis at 21-years-old

March 10, 2017 | by Ashlinn Sarah Jane


I was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) at 21-years-old and needed immediate treatment.


After my first week-long induction treatment, I was still riddled with abnormal white blood cells and life -- or death -- got really real, really fast. The team of oncologists and hematologists consulted the stem cell specialist hospital in Montreal and together came up with a different "cocktail" of chemo drugs that knocked me into remission.



This was far from the end of the battle. I needed maintenance chemo to keep me in remission until we could find a stem cell donor. The truth is, through these treatments, before I even had a donor, I had so many complications including two cases of e-coli from the chemo ripping through my stomach lining and intestine, and a very serious case of sepsis where I had severe fever. There were a few times when the doctors were advising my family to call in the others to say their goodbyes, but one doctor, bless his soul, thought I'd make it through so they refrained. I think, had they come in, I may have figured I was done with, and might have given up.


I did think, in some of those moments, that I wasn't going to make it, and I came to terms with death and dying young, so much so that I glorified it. How brave, I thought. How noble to die young. I thought I would leave a legacy and people would remember me as youthful forever.


When they found a donor and I had the stem cell transplant and it was successful, I began to panic. I was coming to terms with dying as a young adult, and here I was gaining a potential 60+ years.


What was I going to fill all this time with?


I hadn't chosen a career path. I hadn't started saving for retirement. Jeez, I barely even had a savings account at all!


I thought I would grow old and irrelevant and people would forget about me.


How was I ever going to make meaning out of this life I had already basically given up on?


I still don't have all the answers, and it is a daily struggle to find purpose. But I have gone on to get a degree in legal administration and want to make of my life helping people in need through working in offices. I don't have the qualifications to go overseas and administer help, but I can administer in a different way -- in a clerical way -- behind the scenes making the phone calls and filing the things and I now find glory in this alone.


As hopeless as your situation may seem, there is hope, so don't lose it. Keep the faith. You can start your life over again and again, and I have already done so many times in the short 5 years since the success of my stem cell transplant.


Big hugs,






Read more of Ashlinn's writing at her blog ashlinnsarahjaneblog.

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Ashlinn Sarah Jane

Ashlinn Sarah Jane

I survived leukemia at 21 through an anonymous donation of stem cells. After losing my mum to breast cancer at 17, my sister, a survivor of non-hodgkins lymphoma was there to help me through. Through my posts I hope to showcase an honest portrayal of battling cancer, while sharing my personal story and the issues that have been important to me.