Type of cancer: Acute Myelogenous Leukemia
Diagnosed: Feb 2005
Family: Married with two young spirited boys (ages 7 & 10)
In January 2005, I began to feel very exhausted and weak, but continued on with my normal routine as a working mom with two boys ages 8 and 4. One day, I became so weak I could hardly walk up the stairs without my heart racing. I was diagnosed with AML on February 11, 2005 at the age of 34.
With the overwhelming support of my family, friends and community I have gained the strength and courage to fight this disease with all my will. On June 30, 2005, I received my own stem cells, which is called an autologous transplant, at UCSF Medical Center after three rounds of high dose chemotherapy.
I was in remission for one year after the autologous stem cell transplant. During that time, I became very active with Team in Training and completed the Nike Women’s Half marathon in Oct 2005, the P.F. Chang’s RNR Marathon in Jan 2006 and the Wildflower Olympic Distance triathlon in May 2006. Still feeling healthy, I began to train for the Alaska half marathon that took place in June 2006.
After being in remission for one year, in June 2006 I found out that the cancer had returned and the stem cell transplant was unsuccessful. In June of 2006, I underwent another round of high dose chemotherapy that kept me at UCSF for 40 days!!! It was a very tough round to handle.
After being released from UCSF, I now had to wait for an unrelated marrow donor to be found, because I had no siblings that matched. Fortunately, In August of 2006, I received a call from my transplant coordinator and a 9 out of 10 donor was identified. I had hope once again.
On September 13th, 2006 I was readmitted to UCSF for high dose chemo to kill my cells and then underwent an allogenic stem cell transplant on September 20th, 2006. I was released on October 3, 2006 and am recovering at my home in Concord.
I am recovering very well and feel great. Doctors are pleased with my progress and blood levels are normal. I’m waiting to experience some Acute Graft vs. Host disease – as this also indicates the new stem cells are attacking any remaining Leukemia in my body. This is a day by day experience and I’m challenged by the uncertainty. I remain cautiously hopeful that I will be normal again soon.
I LOVE YOU TEAM IN TRAINING and don’t know what I would do without your overwhelming support!
(UPDATE FEB - I'm experiencing graft vs. host disease of lung and now dealing with those complications.)
(3/6/2007: After receiving her new bone marrow in September, she passed through the very critical 100 days with what seemed to be ease. About 7 weeks ago, Brenda was experiencing some shortness of breath and to make a long story, short, her lung capacity has declined rapidly since then - from 80% capacity to 20% currently. She is in stable, yet critical condition at UCSF right now. Her sister-in-law, Aimee-Lynn, updated Brenda's blog today with the details of her current condition: Brenda's MySpace Blog
Right now, Brenda needs some really good, loving, positive thoughts sent her way. Please think of her and her family this week and beyond. A prayer request from her family: Brenda is very ill and your prayers are important. Thank you.
God grant us the serenity
to accept the things we cannot change;
courage to change the things we can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as we would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if we surrender to His Will;
that we may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Vanessa (story from her mom)
It was a beautiful Indian summer day on Friday, October 3, 2003, when Vanessa came home from kindergarten really fatigued and with a 100° fever. I offered her Tylenol and when she pushed away the medicine I thought, “now that’s weird – she always likes medicine”. I gave her an ultimatum - no medicine tonight means no gymnastics class tomorrow. She agreed. Saturday greeted her with a low-grade fever and an exhausted body. Vanessa was so tired that she took a 3-½ hour nap, which was completely out of character for her, fever or no fever. Salina & Vanessa spent the weekend at their fathers’ house and upon returning home on Monday, and while getting Vanessa ready for bed, I was shocked to find a bruise the size of a tennis ball on her lower back and one the size of a golf ball on her thigh. After discussing with Vanessa and her father all the possibilities of how such horrific bruising could have occurred, I was left baffled as to how she could have inflicted herself - this was very, very strange.
The bruising worsened as the week progressed and by Friday, October 10, 2003, Vanessa had bruises all over her legs and arms and little red dots appeared all over her ankles. This now warranted a call to the pediatrician. After being asked many, many questions, none of them worrisome to me, the doctor asked me to take Vanessa to the ER. I declined as it was 10 PM and both kids were already asleep. I assured the doctor that if matters worsened we would call her and go straight to the ER. A chat with a friend with Lupus triggered the thought, “could this be cancer?” and I prayed I was wrong. Little did I know that Vanessa’s life was about to drastically change.
On Monday, October 13, 2003, Vanessa Rose Wittmer, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) at the age of 5. She was immediately admitted to Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland and treatment for her leukemia began within hours of admission. I was shocked by the news as any parent would be and had no idea what was in store for us. All I knew was that my little girl had cancer. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a rapidly progressing disease that results in the accumulation of immature, functionless cells in the marrow and blood. The marrow often can no longer produce enough normal red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. The doctors told me this was the "common cold" of blood cancers. Still not a consolation for a mom whose baby was about to undergo 2+ years of chemotherapy.
Fortunately, Vanessa was one of the lucky one’s! She fought hard and after 2 years and 2 months of intense chemotherapy treatment (which ended December 11, 2005) she is in remission and continues to be a vision of perfect health! Today she enjoys all the wonderful pleasures of childhood - riding bikes, playing soccer, swinging on the monkey bars, playing with her LONG hair, being silly with big sister Salina, and just being a normal 3rd grader. She is at the top of her class, loves math, science, reading and writing. We are so lucky Vanessa has the chance to live a healthy and rich life. Thank you for being a hero and raising money to help find a cure for blood cancer. My family is eternally grateful that the research done so far has progressed so that kids like Vanessa can resume healthy lives. Not all families are as lucky as mine, so we must continue to educate and share our story until blood cancers are a thing of the past.
On January 19, 2006, Vanessa's doctors gave her the good news that she is in REMISSION! Two years and 2 months of chemotherpay paid off! Now that she is one year into remission her clinic protocols have changed from monthly to every other month blood draws and oncology clinic visits for this year. As soon as she hits the 5 year mark of being in remission she will officially be considered CURED!