For most young adults, a 30th birthday marks a new decade, a time to celebrate and say goodbye to your 20s. Amy Belluomini’s 30th year of life was nothing she could have ever anticipated.
In May 2018, Amy went in for her annual mammogram, just as she had since she was young. Her mother beat breast cancer as a young woman, which made it important for Amy to get regular mammograms to stay on top of her breast health.
This mammogram, though, looked abnormal. After ruling out breast cancer, doctors conducted several tests. Three weeks later, Amy received the news. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 T-Cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, a very rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“I was almost in a state of disbelief, because I hadn’t been experiencing many physical symptoms,” Amy says. “I didn’t have any physical warnings that something was going wrong. That was the most horrifying thing. I’d been living my life, spending time with friends, and now you’re telling me that I have this aggressive widespread disease?”
Doctors explained that the cancer was aggressive, but quite treatable. Amy first received a bone marrow biopsy but then more tough news. Her platelet count was dangerously low. She spent the next month at Rush University Medical Center, beginning chemo to start treating the cancer. She would do chemo for two years to keep her in remission, but that was no guarantee the cancer wouldn’t return.
Amy’s best option was to receive a stem cell transplant. Amy’s bone marrow contained 70% of the disease, initially. After her initial chemo treatment, it was in remission, but had a very high chance of coming back. The stem cell transplant would wipe out her immune system and replace it with a healthy one, in this case, her brother’s. He was a match for Amy (pictured left).
In August 2018, the stem cell transplant took her brother eight hours at Rush and gave Amy a second chance at life.
“This little bag of cells restored my life with healthy cells,” Amy says. “We destroyed that part of me because it couldn’t be trusted to help me moving forward. From the start, all of my brothers were, without hesitation, willing to swab. They were so selfless. My brother gifted me my life, a second chance at life. I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Amy again stayed in the hospital, isolated for a month, in order to rebuild her immune system and blood cells after the transplant.
Since the cancer had impacted Amy’s bone marrow, she required more than 40 blood product transfusions throughout her treatment to keep her well. This included platelets, red blood cells and more. She says without the Red Cross and its lifesaving blood collection mission, she wouldn’t be here.
“Going back multiple years, I used to donate blood during college at St. Mary’s in Notre Dame, Indiana,” Amy says. “At the time, I never really saw the impact of my donation. Now, I have a completely deeper understanding of that process. I’ve bridged the gap between donor and donation. It’s truly the gift of life.”
Nearly two years since her transplant, Amy chooses to give back to those who need some love and care, just like she did.
She visits Rush to offer support for blood cancer patients, in the same unit that she once stayed in. She makes monthly visits to bring catered meals to nurses and staff and posts flyers to let patients know she’s there to help. She brings care packages to help patients during their treatments with items like lip balm, ginger chews and lemon heads, items that she appreciated during her toughest days. Socks, blankets, word searches and cards are also items to keep patients busy.
“Besides the items, I think it’s providing a space for people to connect,” Amy says. “You’re going through such an isolated time. Just bringing other patients together, family together, providing that connection was meaningful, to know that they’re thought of and there’s some one that understands.”
“I think it’s encouraging for them to see someone doing well because it’s hard to see that light at the end of the tunnel,” Amy says. “It provides them with hope that maybe they could get to that level.”
Now more than ever, Amy wants others to know how much of an impact each blood donation can make.
“Donating blood is gifting life to those in need,” she says. “It may seem like a simple thing, but it’s so essential and it’s such a need product. You’re performing a selfless life-saving act. It truly has an impact on those who are ill.”
Amy remains active and is working from home as a senior procurement analyst at a major food products corporation. She’s feeling great and continues to go for frequent follow up appointments. She is still in remission today.
“To see where I am now versus two years ago, I’m doing really great.”
Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager