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August 21, 2018

Leukemia Survivor (and Her Daughter) Use Patient Experience to Help Others

By In the Loop

Angie Wilson has a story to tell, and it's one her Mayo doctors hopes will help medical students and trainees understand both the "power and risk" of immune therapies as a cancer treatment.


Five years ago, Angie Wilson discovered a small bump on her abdomen while taking a shower. "I didn't think much of it," she tells us. "It was the middle of August and I just figured it was a bug bite." Two weeks later, the bump had gotten bigger. "At that point I reached out to my local dermatologist," Angie says. "She was initially baffled and not quite sure what she was looking at."

A week later, Angie's dermatologist called to say she wanted to send the biopsy to Mayo Clinic for more testing. "You're automatically put on red alert at that point," Angie says. A few days later, a patient appointment coordinator from Mayo called Angie to tell her an appointment had been set up for her with hematologist Mrinal Patnaik, M.B.B.S. Angie, it seems, had a rare, aggressive and hard to treat form of acute myeloid leukemia. "I was in shock because I was otherwise healthy," Angie says. "I exercise regularly. I eat well. I had a pregnancy with no complications. The diagnosis completely caught me off-guard."

Dr. Patnaik recommended an aggressive treatment plan. And there was no time to waste. Angie went home for about a week, celebrated her 26th birthday, and returned to Mayo with her family. There, a team of doctors led by Dr. Patnaik and hematologist Saad Kenderian, M.B., Ch.B., began her treatment. Angie's tumor was removed, followed by two rounds of chemotherapy, full-body radiation and, finally, a bone marrow transplant.

"I've never met her," Angie says of her donor. "All I know is she's female and from somewhere in the Midwest." That donor helped Angie turn a potentially deadly diagnosis into a story of hope and healing. Five years after her diagnosis, Angie remains cancer-free.

Hope wasn't easy to hold onto at times.

Angie's treatment journey was complicated by a year-long bout of memory loss brought on by encephalitis, not to mention a secondary lymphoma diagnosis brought on by the prolonged suppression of her immune system.

Dr. Kenderian tells us Angie's case is about as complex as it gets, which is why he asked her to come back to Mayo to share her experiences with medical students and trainees. "I've done three sessions so far and I'm not sure how much anyone is getting out of listening to me ramble on, but if it can help anybody then that's the only goal," Angie says.

Dr. Kenderian tells us it is helping. "Angie's perspective is quite unique as it highlights the power and risk of immune therapies as a way to treat cancer," he says. "I appreciate her willingness to share that ride and what she learned from it."

Angie isn't the only member of her family giving back to Mayo. Her young daughter, Carly, held a lemonade and cookie stand on Mayo's behalf. "She raised and donated more than $100 to Mayo Clinic," Angie tells us. "She mostly wanted to do it as a way of saying 'thank you' for everything Mayo's done for our family."

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Tags: Acute Myeloid Leukemia, Bone Marrow Transplant, Chemotherapy, Dr. Mrinal Patnaik, Dr. Saad Kenderian, Encephalitis, Lymphoma, Patient Stories, Radiation

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