There exists, in many communities, people who are compelled to live in an altered reality .. A reality that presents itself in the form of a devastating health diagnosis… Within seconds .. everything that was held to any semblance of order ,gives way to a heightened sense of survival .. .. There is no room for error … all the ties that bind a person to a state of ‘normalcy’ in their life are frayed, tattered and tossed , into the murky waters of a cancer diagnosis.
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia(A.L.L.) is a cancer that affects the white blood cells. These cells fight infection and help protect the body against disease. And this … is precisely the diagnosis that a woman in our community has been given. Malesa English, her husband Charles Thomas and daughter Rasheda (age 15 yrs.) have been on an exhausting journey towards treatment and survival, since February, 2014. After months of feeling un-well ,several trips to the Sault Area Hospitals’ emergency department, along with experiencing increased pain & exhaustion, a diagnosis finally came. Malesa had A.L.L., Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Dr. Hill, hematologist( blood specialist) with SAH, shared the devastating news with Malesa and her husband. “My mind will always remember that day.” said Charles Thomas. “It will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Patients with A.L.L. have too many immature white blood cells in their bone marrow. These cells crowd out normal white blood cells. Without enough normal white blood cells, the body has a harder time fighting infections. Fighting infection is exactly what Melesa has to do in the present time. After a lengthy journey of chemotherapy treatment in Sudbury, Malesa is preparing to undergo a Stem Cell Transplant . Charles shared that his wife Malesa is a strong , spiritual woman. “We have folks from Jamaica to Sault Ste. Marie praying for her well-being” he continued. “Today, she is holding on for dear life.. trying to remain infection free” he shared . “It’s imperative for the next phase of her treatment”
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia treatment will include three phases:
Induction—to kill the leukemia cells in the blood and bone marrow and put the disease into remission (a return to normal blood cell counts)
Consolidation/intensification—to rid the body of any remaining cells that could begin to grow and cause the leukemia to return (relapse)
Maintenance—to destroy any cancer cells that might have survived the first two phases
Treatment for A.L.L. includes,
Chemotherapy (“chemo”)—uses powerful medicines to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing (dividing) and making more cancer cells.
Chemo may be injected into the bloodstream, so that it can travel throughout the body.
Combination therapy uses more than one type of chemo at a time.
Stem cell transplant—includes replacing blood-forming cells in the bone marrow that have been killed by chemo and/or radiation therapy:
A stem cell transplant gives the patient new blood cells from a donor’s blood or bone marrow. These cells grow into healthy blood cells to replace the ones the patient lost.
Charles shared that .. “within minutes of Malesa’s A.L.L. diagnosis, (Feb.2014), we were heading to Sudbury.” Dr. Hill made arrangements for air ambulance to take Malesa to Sudbury. Charles made arrangements for daughter Rasheda to stay with family friends from Rasheda’s school. Heading into the great unknown, Charles followed his wife to Sudbury .
Charles is a welder by trade, and works for C.P.R. While Malesa was in Sudbury for her first round of chemo (February to mid-March 2014), Charles was able to have his position transferred to the Chapleau area. This allowed him to remain closer for Malesa’s chemotherapy treatment. He would travel the 120 kms round trip back to hospital in Sudbury to be a life-line for Malesa. “Malesa was in a great deal of pain” “The chemotherapy is fed directly into the spine.” Charles shared . “What the body goes through”..he sighed, “It’s hard to watch someone you love” he stopped, emotion catching his words. I could hear Malesa ‘s voice , softly telling him “it’s okay.”
Charles continued to share the story of a family trying to navigate uncharted waters. He went on to describe the sequence of events up to this point in time. “During the initial “Induction Phase” of chemotherapy treatment, “Malesa showed signs that her body was responding well to the treatment” said Charles.
Charles began the bureaucratic red tape to ascertain a visitor’s Visa for his mother-in-law. Malesa’s extended family live in Jamaica, her country of origin. After a lot of hard work and persistence, Malesa’s mother was issued a Visa. Charles drove to Toronto to greet her at the airport, where she landed in a Canadian blizzard. Charles remembers this day with humour and fondness. Malesa’s mother, now safely landed at Pearson International Airport, would become part of an important support network. Travelling to Sudbury, Charles and his mother-in-law brought Malesa home, to SSMarie. Malesa would enjoy a brief stay at home with support from Bayshore Home Health Care. She would soon be heading back to Sudbury for the 2nd phase of her treatment. Malesa’s mother would stay in Sault Ste. Marie until the end of June, caring for her grandchild Rasheda. Once school was out for the summer break, Malesa’s mom would head back to Jamaica. Malesa’s sister Josephine would then come from Jamaica to offer support, and, as it would turn out, so much more.
Along the treatment route, the possibility of a stem cell transplant was raised by Dr. Gill, Health Sciences North in Sudbury. Josephine, as it happened, was an exact match for Malesa. Dr. Gill called Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, where Malesa , Charles and Josephine would head next. And today, this is where they wait. Charles has been working to have Josephine’s Visa stay extended. “That is another stress right now”. Charles shared. “You really don’t know what people have to go through until you are facing this yourself”. As of this moment in time, Josephine still has not been granted an extended stay on the Visa. “This would be devastating (being denied the extended stay) Charles said. She (Josephine)will need to be here for all of the upcoming procedures.” The added stress of a Visa extension, looping somewhere on the ‘red tape highway’, has definitely taken its’ toll on everyone. Charles shared that he tries to keep a positive mind for Malesa. “She needs me to be strong” he said, not for the first time during our interview.
Daughter Rasheda continues to keep up with a busy high school life in Sault Ste. Marie.” Shared Charles. “She continues to live with her friends’ family. We are so blessed to have them in our lives.” He continued. “I don’t know where we would be without their generosity.”
Charles continued to work as long as possible. In late fall, though, as the reality of stem cell transplant treatment began unfolding, Charles would have to take a leave of absence from C.P.R. Having used up all of this vacation time , there was no other option. “In my work”, he shared “There is no room for mistakes. I could not afford to become so distracted, that my co-workers safety would be put at risk.”
Financial resources have now been depleted. Staying in Toronto, has pushed the family into that darkest of places, financial stress. Malesa will need to continue to stay at The Princess Margaret Lodge for 100 days after the transplant. They are currently in Toronto, following the medical protocol required for Malesa & Josephine to undergo the stem cell transplant.
Jane Omollo, Settlement Services Supervisor with Sault Career Centre, Sault,Ontario.
An individual rooting for Malesa is Jane Omollo, Settlement Services Supervisor with Sault Career Centre. Jane has known Malesa for 8 years, and brought this story to the attention of NorthernHoot.com. Jane is a woman of deep Christian faith. She believes that as a community, we are bound by our humanity. “We must take care of each other.” Jane shared “It is important to have a loving community to embrace you, especially when you are sick.” Jane continued “Collectively, we can demonstrate a compassionate heart, and lift this family towards healing, spiritually, emotionally and physically.”
The interview drawing to a close with Charles and Malesa, I asked them if there was anything else they would want to share. Malesa, spoke softly, and shared, “thankyou for all the prayers that are being offered for me”. Charles, offered this. “I want people to know that there are angels in the world . It isn’t until you go through something like this , that you really understand how many people are out there helping cancer patients and their family.” He stressed “There are some real sweethearts out there.. Volunteering, giving of their time and energy. People that truly empathize with what you are going through.” Charles spoke further about the medical team with the utmost respect. “ The oncologists, the doctors, the nurses, Bayshore home health care… all of it ..It’s incredible really. He continued , “The thing that really gets you are the volunteers out there, trying to make it a little less rough.”
Prior to Malesa’s A.L.L. diagnosis, she was working towards enrollment in Sault College, Personal Support Worker programme. With the help of Heather Ferguson, an instructor at Sault College, Malesa and her family have reached out to the community for financial help. They have set up a ‘Youcaring.com’ fundraising page. The goal is $3,000. Featured in the photograph on their fundraising page, are sisters, Malesa and Josephine.
At the time of writing this article, Malesa English is scheduled for a Stem Cell Transplant, on December 11th, 2014, Princess Margaret Hospital, Toronto, Ontario. Malesa English and Charles Thomas were interviewed by telephone from Toronto,Ont. This is where Malesa will continue in her journey to a hopeful outcome, knowing that there is a collective of compassionate hearts , supporting her, moving this family towards Christmas 2014, with a renewed spirit, and outlook for a healthy 2015.
the link below will direct you to a fundraising campaign to support the medical costs of living in Princess Margaret Hospital Lodge, as well as expenses incurred through the ongoing living expenses for Malesa and support network while in Toronto,Ontario. Please consider helping this brave woman and supporting her healing..emotionally..spiritually..financially.
There is an overwhelming amount of information to glean when researching acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The following link shares information about Princess Margaret Hospital, Cancer Treatment Centre.