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Alexa Claypool: Remission from Leukemia

Alexa Claypool

The Challenge: Tonsils Filled with Leukemia

Alexa Claypool was 24 years old when a nagging sore throat landed her at the office of Grant Gillman, an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist. After a course of antibiotics and steroids, the swelling and discomfort came right back. Having a history of sinus infections and allergies, Alexa opted to have her tonsils taken out.

“I had the outpatient surgery, went home to recover, and really didn’t think much more about it,” Alexa recalls. “About a week later I got an urgent call to get into the doctor’s office ASAP.”

When Alexa’s tonsils were removed, they crumbled instead of pulling out cleanly. Dr. Gillman sent them to be biopsied because they were so abnormal. When the results came back, they showed myeloid sarcoma, which is generally a precursor to leukemia. Dr. Gillman immediately referred Alexa to Mounzer Agha, MD, a hematologist-oncologist at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

To schedule an appointment or ask a question, please call: 833-298-7320

About a week later, Alexa had a bone marrow biopsy, which showed she had acute myeloid leukemia.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. It is the most common type of acute leukemia in adults. Alexa had none of the possible risk factors for AML, and its early signs and symptoms are difficult to detect as they mirror those of the flu and other common illnesses and diseases.

“Looking back, the symptoms I was having, like night sweats and fatigue, I just chalked up to being sick and having my tonsils out,” Alexa says. “I never thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I might have leukemia.’”

The Solution: Targeted, Personalized Treatment

Within 48 hours of getting the results of her bone marrow biopsy, Alexa was admitted to the hospital and began chemotherapy.

“From the beginning I had such a great relationship with Dr. Agha,” Alexa says. “One of the first things he said to me was, ‘Don’t worry, there is a cure.’ He held my mom’s hand and said, ‘We’re going to take care of her.’ So much of my confidence in being able to get well came from him.”

Alexa began a whirlwind of treatment for her cancer. She started chemo on July 18 and by August 7, which just happens to be her birthday, she was in remission.

“When they told me there was no sign of cancer, I was shocked, because it was so fast,” Alexa recalls. “Frankly, my doctors were surprised, too. We were all thrilled that my body responded to the treatment like it did. All I wanted to do was go celebrate.”

The Results: Living Happily in the Moment

Alexa feels very lucky for the love and support of her family and boyfriend. And her doctors were always a great source of comfort.

“My oncologist is just a warm and caring person,” she says. “He was able to take this scary diagnosis and give me and all the people who love me confidence in the treatment plan that was tailored just for me.”

And fretting about the future suddenly doesn’t seem as important to Alexa as it once did.

“Before the diagnosis, I would think about where I’d be 10 or 15 years from now,” she says. “Now I think about today, living in the moment, and what I hope to accomplish right now. I know there is the potential for relapse, but I’m going to enjoy today as much as I can. With my family and my doctors behind me, no matter what happens, I’ll be okay.

“Jokingly I asked my boyfriend what he was going to get me to celebrate one year of remission,” Alexa says. “Though he’s not really a dog person, he kind of broke down and that’s when we decided to rescue Reggie.”

Alexa, who works as a counselor, usually completes her paperwork at home with Reggie by her side. “Just seeing Reggie’s face after a hard day puts me in a good mood,” she says.

Alexa’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.

To schedule an appointment or ask a question, please call: 833-298-7320