Knowledge is Power in the Fight Against Leukemia
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Published on July 13, 2016

rachael fjeldheim

Knowledge is Power in the Fight Against Leukemia

When Rachael Fjeldheim found herself sleeping more than 12 hours a night, the 22-year-old cosmetologist thought she was just suffering another onset of mononucleosis, a virus she had as a teen.

Rachael had recently moved to Rapid City, S.D., where she was striking out on her own, across the state from her hometown of Aberdeen, S.D. When she told her mom about her tiredness and swollen lymph glands, she followed her mom’s advice to see a doctor and have blood work done to make sure it was truly mono.

It wasn’t.

“When they called me to come in, I got the feeling right away that it was something serious. They said, ‘you have leukemia. You need to go to Sioux Falls today.’ It didn’t seem real,” Rachael said.

Rachael soon found herself under the care of Ahmed Galal, MD, hematologist at the Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls. She would stay at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center for five weeks, while she underwent four rounds of chemotherapy. Her first round hit the cancer head on, while follow-up rounds ensured that cancer cells weren’t lurking elsewhere in her body.

Rachael responded well to treatment and is in remission – a remission her doctor hopes is long term with no future relapses. If Rachael does experience a relapse, she would likely be treated in the future with bone marrow transplant.

For now, she’s happy to move on with her life. She relocated to Sioux Falls to be closer to her doctors and family, and is back to work as a cosmetologist.

Learning about her diagnosis and treatment was a huge part of the process for Rachael and her parents, who were with her virtually every day throughout her hospital stay, from the time she woke up until the time she was ready to go to sleep.

Positive Thoughts and Prevention

For Rachael, keeping a positive attitude made a huge difference. “I always realized that things could be worse,” she said. “Knowing that this would not be my situation forever also helped.”

As she continues on in recovery, Rachael and her family are aware of the importance of a preventive diet and practices. “I always wear sunscreen, and I’m definitely more careful and aware of what I put into and onto my body,” Rachael said. For example, you’re unlikely to find her eating processed foods, seasoning mixes and junk food snacks.

Galal says that leukemia and lymphoma are different from other common cancers, for example, of the breast or prostate. Depending on the type of disease, it can progress slowly over time, or within weeks or even days.

“Cancer is a very difficult word and weighs very heavily on the shoulders of patients and their families,” Galal said. Yet today’s treatment options present a great deal of hope.

“It’s important that people know what to expect in terms of treatment and side events, and also the nature and mechanisms of the disease,” Galal said.

“The progress that has happened in cancer treatment is amazing. Our greater understanding of these diseases has led to better treatment, including targeted treatment and immunotherapy, which enhances the body’s immune response to cancer cells,” Galal added.

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