Jessica Thomas – Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

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Jessica Thomas is a mother, a wife, a nurse, and a cancer survivor. In the fall of 2011, Jessica began to notice unusual symptoms sporadically over the next couple of months — numbness in her arm, a burn that was slow to heal, chest pain (which she assumed was anxiety), and shortness of breath – but she didn’t think too much about it. While at her former job as a supervisor at Starbucks, the numbness and chest pain became painful, so she went to the emergency room.

After numerous tests, Jessica was told she had lymphoma. “I just remembered beginning to bawl,” she said. “Cancer isn’t something an otherwise ‘healthy’ 24 year old thinks will come out of a doctor’s mouth.” That night, Jessica was sent in an ambulance to UPMC Shadyside for additional bloodwork, bone marrow biopsies, and more, which determined her disease was acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Concerned about her family and future, she asked about fertility preservation and was told she didn’t have enough time.

“I had to start chemotherapy only two days after hearing the ‘c’ word. My blood and bone marrow were 99% leukemic cells when I began treatments,” Jessica said.

Jessica was an inpatient at UPMC Shadyside through the remainder of 2011 and underwent intrathecal chemotherapy lumbar punctures, oral medications, impatient chemotherapy, and blood transfusions. When she was discharged from the hospital under the care of Dr. Anastasios Raptis, she continued with her other two phases of her treatment plan – consolidation and maintenance. This included inpatient and outpatient chemo, cranial radiation, blood transfusions, and more.

Her side effects were intense– severe nausea, hair loss, fatigue, and more. Still through it all, she continued to power on for her family, especially her six year old daughter. Jessica credits her family, friends, and the experts at UPMC for helping her heal physically and mentally.

“My parents, grandparents, my husband, and my siblings were major supporters in my journey. And my doctors and their team that I worked with always made me feel like I was their priority and was their only patient, even though they have hundreds,” she said.

Jessica believes that her experience with leukemia was for a reason – 8 months after being diagnosed, she enrolled in school to become an oncology nurse. She completed 1 ½ years of schooling through her treatments and side effects. And in May 2016, she earned her nursing degree, inspired by the care she received at UPMC.

“Initially, I did not choose UPMC,” Jessica said. “When I was first told that I had cancer from my local ER, I was not given a choice on where to go. It was my choice to STAY at UPMC. There are more local cancer centers that I could have transferred to but I knew that I was in the best hands at UPMC and they never disappointed me.”