Alyssa’s story: ‘Hearing about other people’s experiences can be so powerful.’
In 2018, health care attorney Alyssa Parrish was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia. She discovered LLS through their website, which she found during a “full-on blood cancer article binge” on her first day of chemotherapy.
At the time of my diagnosis, I was 39 years old. I'm an attorney and a mom to twin girls, who were 3 years old at the time, and I assumed that balancing motherhood and work was just weighing me down, making me feel kind of crummy and fatigued. But I decided to at least go see my doctor, in case there was something I could do differently that could help. As part of that visit, the doctor took a blood panel, which showed markers of leukemia.
I learned that had I been diagnosed even 15 years earlier, I likely would have only had three years to live - but LLS funded research that resulted in the development of a targeted therapy that could keep my leukemia at bay, allowing me to live not only a normal life, but hopefully a normal lifespan.
They say you have cancer, and the best thing you can hear after that is the word – “but.” They take down this hammer, and then they can give you all this hope. I couldn’t imagine what I would have felt if I didn't have that hope, and I was extremely indebted to those who gave it to me – especially LLS for funding the research that ultimately resulted in the treatment I received, but also everyone who helped me access it – from the doctors to the researchers to others who provided essential support.
Finding strength and support
Going through treatment, that support is so essential – not only for the patient, but also for their loved ones. There's something that comes over you when you get diagnosed; a kind of resolve, a fighting spirit that says OK, I'm going to do everything I can to come through this. But for the loved ones, the caretakers watching you go through it, they don't have that. They're just watching something that's out of their control. It’s OK for them to admit that they feel a little bit helpless, and look for places and people who can offer different kinds of support.
For example, my treatment is ongoing, so pharmacists play an important role in my support system, helping me navigate my way through these complex treatment regimens. They have the technical expertise, but they also tend to be sympathetic and empathetic about the experience of being on these medications, and can offer suggestions on managing side effects.
And then, of course, there are advocacy organizations like LLS. On their website, they not only offer research and resources, but also the stories of other people who have had the same types of blood cancer. Hearing about other people’s experiences can be so powerful. When I was raising money for the LLS's Man & Woman of the Year campaign, I raised $417,000 in 10 weeks, just by sharing my story. I think it's about bringing things to light that often happen in the shadows.
I continue to do all I can to support LLS. I’ve met researchers who are able to do their important work thanks to LLS, and you quickly realize there’s no lack of great ideas out there about how to treat cancer. Many therapies initially approved for blood cancers are now being tested for other cancers, including breast, lung, pancreatic and prostate cancer. But there’s still more work to be done. And they're constantly searching for the next thing – we got you to where you're able to live with the disease, but now let's talk about taking away the side effects. Let's talk about getting you off of certain drugs or making the drugs more effective. By supporting LLS, you’re supporting an organization that is truly changing lives.