Courtesy of
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Thousands gathered Oct. 17 at Freedom Plaza in Northwest D.C. for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s annual fundraiser, Light the Night Walk. Beneath a blanket of stars, the crowd raised brightly lit lanterns of white, read and gold symbolizing the survivors, the patients and the victims of Leukemia and Lymphoma. Among the sea of faces stood Mertine Brown, 62, of Prince George’s County. With her white lantern raised high into the night sky, Brown beamed joyously as she walked the 3-mile path through the heart of the city, and as she walked, she reflected on her own battle years ago with Leukemia.

Brown had always lived an active lifestyle. She worked as a clothing designer, she ate well, she was never sick, and she knew nothing about Leukemia. But in the summer of 1999, that would all change.

“It began with this aching pain in my right arm,” said Brown. “Out of nowhere, it just started to hurt. It got so bad that I had to leave work. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Brown headed home to rest, but the pain intensified well into the evening. “[At dinner], my arm was hurting so bad, I couldn’t even cut my food. My sister Rhea thought I was having a stroke, and she took me straight to the hospital.” At the hospital, she was given oxygen, an electrocardiogram, an ultrasound, and a CAT scan. Three hours later, doctors gave her the news. “They said I had Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia, and I just sat there in shock. (The doctors) told me I needed a bone marrow transplant in order to live.”

Chronic Myelogenous, otherwise known as Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, is an uncommon blood cancer that begins in the blood-forming cells of bone marrow. These cancerous cells begin to grow and divide, ultimately creating an overabundance of white blood cells in the bone marrow. Unlike acute leukemias, which advance faster if left untreated, chronic leukemias tend to progress slower but are often harder to cure. CML can affect people of all ages, yet it is mostly found in older adults and only rarely seen in children. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 10 percent of all new cases of Leukemia are CML. ACS reports that an estimated 6,600 people will be diagnosed with CML before the end of 2015 and an additional 1,140 people will perish from the disease before the start of the new year.

“I thought I was going to die,” recalled Brown. “My mother passed in 1996, and I just knew I was on my way to meet her. But my friend the Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds came to see me and told me that God wanted me to live and not die. We became great prayer partners. My husband and Dr. Reynolds, my family and my friends, they were all invaluable to me. Much kudos to my family. They helped keep my spirits up.”

A few weeks after her diagnosis, Brown received good news. A bone marrow donor had been found. “My older sister Ayo was a perfect match.” In August, Brown was transferred to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, where she underwent extensive chemotherapy treatments. “I spent 30 days at NIH. It was the hardest period of my life, but the roughest part about it was not being able to see my baby, Harri. He was only 5 years old at the time. That was truly the hardest part.”

By September, Brown had received her transplant and was released from the hospital, but the road to recovery would be a lengthy process. “It was rough in the beginning. Very draining and I felt tired a lot”, recalled Brown. “My husband and my brother Charles were my caregivers. I was always tired, and I couldn’t do anything. When I left the hospital, I was on 45 pills a day. It took me close to two years to recover, but I finally did.” Today, Brown is Leukemia-free. Her doctors have given her a clean bill of health, and she can now regain some of the active lifestyle she had before.

Walking alongside her family, friends, other supporters and survivors, Brown waved her white lantern as she crossed the finish line. “I feel a sense oneness and of togetherness here tonight,” said Brown. “It’s a rough battle, but you’ve got to have faith. You have to draw on your faith and you have to trust in God.”

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