AML Patient Focuses on Future While Undergoing Treatment

A Shift in Focus

In 2010, Amanda Pope, then 24, was focused on her career. She held a full-time marketing position at Saint Louis University while pursuing a master’s degree in business administration. While this might be an ambitious undertaking for some, it was not out of the ordinary for Amanda.

Early that year, Amanda began feeling run down, tired and out of breath. At the time, Amanda thought she had overworked herself and just needed to take it easier. But when her symptoms persisted, Amanda decided to see a doctor, who ordered a blood test.

In March, Amanda was in a meeting when her mother unexpectedly showed up. Unable to reach Amanda, her physician had called her mother, Cathy, instructing Amanda needed blood immediately. The results of her blood test had shown Amanda was severely anemic. They rushed to the hospital where she was given blood. Shortly after, her physician came into the room and ordered the blood be stopped. He told Amanda and her family that it appeared she had leukemic cells. She was immediately sent to Siteman Cancer Center for treatment.

Amanda during her treatment for AML.
Amanda during her treatment for AML in 2010. See Amanda’s photo gallery.

Amanda was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a form of cancer in which the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells, red blood cells or platelets. She was referred to Amanda Cashen, MD, a Washington University medical oncologist at Siteman. Amanda’s diagnosis was unique; she had a rare genetic mutation called FLT3, which made her leukemia more difficult to treat. Amanda needed a bone marrow transplant.

“I never expected to be diagnosed with leukemia. My life changed almost instantly,” says Amanda. “But I focused on the future and knew I would get through it.”

The Difficult Journey Ahead

Amanda received inpatient treatment at Siteman Cancer Center for more than six months. “I made the best out of being there. I called it my high-rise apartment in the Central West End. I decorated with bedding, rugs and decor. My room filled with cards from family and friends. I tried to make it feel like home,” says Amanda.

To prepare for her bone marrow transplant, Amanda received chemotherapy. She experienced many side effects, which included a full body rash and 105-degree fevers. Despite this, Amanda remained positive. “Every day, I  focused on being the healthiest I could be. My mom and I walked laps around the floor every day to keep my strength up,” she says. “Sometimes it was difficult because the chemotherapy was so tough on my body, but I fought through it and focused on staying active and surviving.”

She continued studying for her MBA throughout treatment, and hoped she would be well enough to attend graduation. Unfortunately, she was still undergoing in patient treatment the day of the ceremony, which prevented her from attending. Instead, Amanda’s family and friends brought graduation to her; she walked the halls in her cap and gown as doctors, nurses and her loved ones cheered.

No one in her family was a match for her bone marrow, which left her in need of a donor. Through the international bone marrow registry, a match was found in Germany. On July 20, 2010, Amanda had her transplant. She and her family waited all day for the stem cells to be delivered. Just before midnight, they were.

“It’s amazing to have this connection with a stranger across the world. That’s what’s incredible about the international registry. I would have never met him any other way and now he’s family. He saved my life,” says Amanda.

Amanda stayed at Siteman for another month after her transplant, but her leukemia went into remission.

“This transplant is a difficult journey, but if you keep faith, have hope and find your strength to survive, you come out better for the experience,” says Amanda. “What got me through was support from my family and friends, a positive attitude and the amazing team at Siteman.”

Living Her Best Life
Amanda, who now works as a Communications Manager for Washington University, in October 2016.
Amanda, who now works as a Communications Manager for Washington University, in October 2016.

Today, Amanda, 31, is cancer-free. She works for Washington University as a Communications Manager in Human Resources. “I now have the absolute privilege to work for the university that saved my life. I am passionate about helping the doctors, staff and team at Washington University succeed because that’s what they did for me. I am so grateful to them, and this job truly gives me purpose in this second chance at life,” she says.

In November 2013, Amanda was allowed to exchange contact information with her stem cell donor, Bernd Lang from Freimersheim, Germany. Amanda, Bernd and their families have visited each other in their hometowns, which has been covered by local news. The two have formed a close bond. “It’s astonishing to have this connection when our lives and our worlds are so vastly different. That’s what’s incredible about the international registry. I would have never met him any other way and now he’s family. He saved my life,” says Amanda.

Five years after her transplant, Amanda delivered the keynote address at the 2015 Bone Marrow Transplant Survivorship Celebration hosted by Siteman Cancer Center, an annual event honoring bone marrow transplant patients and their family and friends.

Amanda knew early on she could trust the doctors and nurses at Siteman Cancer Center. “I am blessed to live in a city with world-class care. The doctors, nurses and staff at Siteman combine ground-breaking research, top-notch treatment, excellent patient care and compassion to help us survive and go on to live our best lives. This is a difficult battle, filled with challenges, but with every challenge, there is a doctor and team researching to find solutions.”