CLEVELAND — September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. Blood cancer is a general term used for more specific diseases like leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
It makes up a small percentage of all cancer diagnoses and can affect every age group.
It’s a disease that’s personal to us at News 5, as one of our own has been fighting a battle with a rare form of leukemia for the past year.
But we have some exciting news to share with our viewers: News 5 Reporter Olivia Fecteau will be returning to work in October!
Olivia has been a reporter for nine years. She started working at News 5 in 2019. She is fact-driven, level-headed and a compassionate advocate for others who cannot advocate for themselves. But in October of 2020, there was one story that was hard for Olivia, and her friends and family, to comprehend: her own.
“I started feeling sick like 6 months into the pandemic,” she said.
Though at first, her symptoms didn’t alarm her. She was 31-years-old, and they weren’t exactly specific or suspicious symptoms. It started with fatigue.
“Who among us is not exhausted all the time and run down? I thought it was from working full time,” she said.
She also had a sore throat and swollen lymph nodes, so, she got a COVID-19 test.
“If COVID hadn’t been going on, I don’t think I would’ve taken the time to go in, get tested, try to figure out what these symptoms were,” she said. “But I was worried it might be coronavirus.”
It wasn’t coronavirus, but her doctors were concerned with her swollen lymph nodes and a lump above her collar bone. An ultrasound revealed that Olivia had a baseball-sized mass in her chest.
She and her husband Brett listened, in disbelief, as the doctor said it may be cancer.
“I remember like sitting in the room, the doctor left the room, and just making eye contact with Brett over our masks, so we are just seeing each other’s eyes, like, is this happening? Is this really life right now?” she recounts.
Her diagnosis: T-cell acute lymphoblastic lymphoma/leukemia.
Dr. Sudipto Mukherjee is one of Olivia’s oncologists at the Cleveland Clinic. He specializes in rare blood cancers.
“These are very rare and very aggressive leukemias,” said Mukherjee. “One thing about these treatments, they are hard and they long.”
Olivia said her life, as she knew it, changed when she received the diagnosis, but her approach to life did not change.
“She has weighed the risks and the benefits with a very cool, calculated mind, having not been swayed by emotions, although, I can imagine how stressful this is,” said Mukherjee.
She began the intensive treatment immediately- undergoing months of chemotherapy, spine punctures, steroids, bone marrow biopsies, and she just completed cranial radiation.
“My doctors were like, actually, there’s one more thing we are going to do prophylactic cranial radiation, so full brain radiation because if my type of cancer comes back it’s really hard to treat, so they try to prevent it by sterilizing your brain,” Olivia said.
Mukherjee said Olivia has reached every milestone needed and has her own strength, and a support system in Brett, that has helped along the way.
“It requires a tremendous amount of willpower and strength to persevere,” he said. “In Olivia's case, the story was no different. The first few months were exceptionally hard, multiple back to back hospitalizations, pretty much all the complications you expect did occur, but she bounced back.”
Nearly a year after her initial diagnosis, Olivia is hitting another milestone. She’ll resume her position as a reporter at News 5.
“I will be coming back to Oct. 4,” she said.
It will truly be a ‘new normal,’ as she will have to balance maintenance treatment and work.
“I was so upset thinking to myself, am ‘I ever going to get the old me back and my old life back and the reality is I’m not going to but I do get some semblance of normalcy by going back to work and being able to do my job,” she said.
She will return to telling other people’s stories, but she hopes by sharing her own, it will remind people to be their own health advocate.
“I think people have to really listen to their bodies, if something doesn’t feel right, take it seriously, especially if it is going on for several weeks or longer,” she said.
A lot of blood cancers present with non-specific symptoms, so it can be easy to confuse them with flu or viral illness, said her doctor.
Olivia will have to undergo maintenance treatment for about another year. Then she will still have check-ins with her doctor for about another 5 years before the word ‘cured’ can be used. But her medical professionals said she is on the right track.
We are so happy and excited to have her back!