Leukemia survivor deals with aftermath while in remission
by Robert Joseph Baker | May 5, 2016 3:05 am
Last Updated: May 4, 2016 at 8:37 pm
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the 16th in a series of stories on cancer survivors and their caregivers in the leadup to Clarendon County Relay for Life, which will be held 6 p.m. to midnight Friday at Manning High School’s Ramsey Stadium.
Faye Coker found out she had leukemia six years ago, almost by accident.
“I tore my achilles on the job, and I had to have surgery; my foot would not heal,” she said. “I kept getting sicker, went in the hospital with pneumonia and just had all sorts of problems. After several different doctors, I had a high fever and was rushed to the ER, and that’s when Dr. Clowney told me what was going on.”
Coker was in disbelief.
“I don’t remember much of anything, it was just disbelief,” she said. “When they told me, my husband was holding my hand, and it was like I was falling, even though I was sitting down.”
Coker had just visited her granddaughter in Arkansas.
“I was back and forth after she broke her leg in three places,” Coker said. “The whole time, I was getting sicker down there, and I thought I’d just picked up a virus. They called me in for blood work about five different times.”
Coker was planning to return from Arkansas when she came down with the high fever.
“I finally made it home, but I was soaking wet from the sweat dripping off me on the trip,” she said. “The next day, I felt fine. I cleaned up the whole yard, did the flowers and everything.”
That night, her fever was back up to 105 degrees.
“While I was in the hospital, that’s when he told me it was chronic myeloid leukemia, and it was already out bursting,” she said. “During that first night, he told my husband not to leave. He didn’t think I would make it as the fever got over 106. They had me on morphine. I was freezing all night, despite the fever.”
Clowney’s medical team remained by Coker’s side throughout the next 48 hours, she said.
“They were just amazing with the medical care they provided,” she said. “They knew how bad it was. It had gotten so out of control and no one had found it for such a long time. I got to the point that I was really scared after the diagnosis and I went to the South Carolina Oncology Associates in Columbia. Dr. Clowney saved my life that night.”
Fitted for a port for chemotherapy, Coker had initially spent eight days in the hospital. After a year-and-a-half of treatment, a bone marrow biopsy showed she needed a change of medication. She took three separate chemotherapy drugs at different times overall.
“I just had blood tests done last Thursday (April 28), and I was still in remission, and I thank God for that,” she said.
Still, she is having recurring infections like the ones she had before her diagnosis. They keep her on edge.
“I’ve been keeping sinus infections; I’ve been sick a lot this past year,” she said. “It’s been really rough. I’ve been to doctors, all types of specialists, and I just can’t fight it off. My lung doctor is running tests to find out why my sinuses are so bad, when the sinus doctor said they were fine. They’re trying to find out if it’s a bacterial infection as to why I can’t get over this.”
Coker said her leukemia diagnosis “completely changed my life.”
“I’m one to do 100 mph, not one to slow down and not do anything,” she said. “It’s slowed me down 150 percent. It’s completely changed my life.”
Coker said she’s given into anger several times.
“I broke so many dishes and glasses; I’ve thrown some spoons and put holes in the wall,” she said. “Cancer takes a lot from you. I have the recurring infections and bone loss in my left shoulder from it. I have problems I will deal with for the rest of my life.”
For Coker, Relay for Life means a time of support.
“I’m glad there are people out there that support us and are there for us if we need them,” she said. “I will be there Friday night, and I hope a lot of people come out.”