A woman who was diagnosed with leukemia and was given just a few days to live has revealed her struggle with the aggressive cancer as she celebrates being cancer-free for eight years.
Ana Denae Colgin, 21, from Louisiana, was just four years old when she was diagnosed with leukemia and pneumonia after her parents brought her to the doctor because she had the flu.
‘A week before the diagnosis, my whole family came down with the flu, but I was the only one who didn’t get better,’ Ana said.
Recovered: Ana Denae Colgin, 21, was diagnosed with leukemia and pneumonia when she was four-years-old when she went to the doctor to get treatment for the flu
Strength: The Louisiana-born childcare provider has now been living cancer-free for eight years despite doctors telling her and her parents that she would only have days to live
Ana, who now works as a childcare provider, came down with the flu back in 2003 and never fully recovered.
When her parents took her to the hospital, doctors realized that there was a major problem.
Diagnosis: Ana pictured in 2003 when she was diagnosed with leukemia
Ana said: ‘I was feeling really weak and I started complaining a lot about my belly hurting when I woke up. I was sleeping all the time but was still tired, and my face began looking sunken and pale.
‘My mom took me to the doctor and the nurse just stared at me and said, “I’m so sorry”. She’d never seen a child so ill before.’
‘The doctor told my parents it was leukemia and it was imperative that we choose where I wanted to get my treatment right away.
‘They decided on St Jude’s but before I could fly out anywhere, I needed blood transfusions that evening so I could survive the flight,’ she said.
Tests revealed that 98 per cent of Ana’s bone marrow was leukemic and that she also had pneumonia.
This left doctor’s in a catch-22 situation whereby prioritizing one treatment over the other was likely to kill Ana.
The chemotherapy would progress Ana’s pneumonia, which could kill her, but they couldn’t treat the pneumonia without the cancer advancing.
Ana said: ‘My doctor already called the staff at St Jude’s and gave them my complete history, so they could be ready for me. As soon as we arrived, they grabbed me and started tests right away.
Devastation: Ana, pictured with her parents in 2003, when test results revealed that 98 per cent of Ana’s bone marrow was leukemic and that she had also gotten pneumonia from the flu
Family support: Ana pictured with her older sister in 2004 (left) and during chemotherapy on her sixth birthday (right)
‘They discovered that my blood and bone marrow were 98 per cent leukemic, I had pneumonia from the flu, and I developed an infection on my lower back from where they tested the bone marrow.
She added: ‘If they gave me chemotherapy for the leukemia then the pneumonia would kill me. If they gave me antibiotics for the pneumonia and the infection, then the cancer would kill me.’
Because of the complex situation, a team of nine doctors had to do small doses of chemotherapy before switching to antibiotics to treat the pneumonia until Ana was stable enough to receive the antibiotics alone to get rid of the pneumonia entirely.
Ana said: ‘They needed to get rid of the pneumonia first, so they could focus on the cancer.
‘I was so weak, all I did was sleep,’ she added.
While she was going through chemotherapy, Ana slept completely for three days leaving her doctors and family concerned that she might not wake up.
‘During this time my parents cried out to God, and they trusted in him,’ she said.
But to everyone’s disbelief, Ana woke up looking better than before and sitting upright, and even had enough strength to tell doctors that she was hungry.
She added: ‘I was sitting up and coloring and I looked so much better. I wasn’t completely better but the fact that I woke up was miraculous because they didn’t think I’d live the rest of the week.’
Recovering: Ana pictured receiving chemotherapy towards the end of her battle in 2008 (left) and riding a pony at her ‘end of chemotherapy’ party the same year (right)
Determination: Ana began taking dance classes when she was 17-years-old despite doctors warning her that if her bone strength didn’t improve she could end up wheelchair-bound
Ana went through chemotherapy for three years which left lasting effects on her bone strength.
When she was 17-years-old, she began taking dance classes, but doctors warned her that if her bone strength didn’t increase that she would be confined to a wheelchair.
Determined not to let this happen, Ana began weightlifting to improve her strength. Although it took a couple of years, Ana’s bone strength increased, and she is now healthier than ever.
Ana explained: ‘I started taking dance classes a few years after I finished chemotherapy and it played a huge role in staying active.
‘Unfortunately, when I was 17, my doctor told me that if my vitamin D levels didn’t go up then I would be in a wheelchair in my twenties as my bones weren’t strong enough.
‘I started weightlifting and being more active and eating a lot of vitamin D fortified foods, so when I went for a check-up a year later, my levels had stayed the same.
She added: ‘It was the first time my levels didn’t decrease. Then when I went back the next year at 19, they were finally increasing.’
Ana completed her treatment in October 2005 and was declared cancer free in 2010.
However, during the treatment, a skin infection developed on Ana’s scalp, and left her with a permanent bald patch on the back of her head.
The final hurdle: Ana (pictured left with her boyfriend James) was declared cancer-free in 2010, but during her treatment she had developed a skin infection that left her with a bald patch on the back of her head
Surgery: Ana underwent a final surgery in 2017 to conceal her bald patch (pictured) and finally leave the experience behind her
Motherly-love: Ana, pictured with her mother (right) this year, said that her experience with cancer has been ‘humbling’ and that she feels blessed
She said: ‘It was an open wound and it oozed and bled, so I had to wear gauze on the back of my head.
‘We found a doctor who wanted to try out a few treatments but first he put some ointment on it which healed the wound, but it killed all my hair follicles and resulted in a permanent bald spot.
‘I let the bald patch deplete my confidence and I’d never wear my hair the way I wanted to. I always hid the patch with a bun or ponytail.
‘Even when I wore simple styles like a bun, I had to hairspray and pin over the bald spot, so it wouldn’t accidentally show,’ she added.
Despite having her health back, the bald patch was a constant hindrance to her confidence so, in May 2017, she underwent surgery to conceal the bald patch and to finally leave the experience behind her.
Ana said of her experience battling cancer: ‘My journey with cancer up until now has been very humbling but I consider myself to be very blessed.
‘My mental health is strengthened every day when I think of how I’ve beaten the disease and I’m thriving.
She added: ‘I needed to trust in God because I’m a huge believer that I would not be here without him, not with how sick I was. You have to believe in yourself and believe that you are as strong and powerful as you feel.’