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How one patient dealt with leukemia -- and why she wants to give back

They say true happiness comes from giving to others. If that’s the case, Valerie Anderson is as happy as a person can be.

Just six months after her own bone marrow transplant, Valerie returned to Tufts  Medical Center to help serve lunches and comfort people with leukemia. Valerie and her husband find many ways to give back including crocheting afghans to donate to patients at Floating Hospital for Children, attending events to raise money for cancer research and helping send children to special summer camps that allow them to forget about their cancer and just enjoy a few weeks being a kid.

If you ask why, she’ll say four simple words, “I just have to”

After being diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APML) and completing her treatment at the Cancer Center at Tufts Medical Center 13 years ago, Valerie just wants to give back. Giving back to other patients is her way of saying thank you.

“It was hard enough for me as an adult. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for the children,” remarks Valerie.

It’s been 13 years since her diagnosis in February of 2000, but Valerie remembers the experience like it was yesterday. Chills and a fever brought her into a local hospital, which then referred her to Tufts Medical Center.

She spent months enduring intense chemotherapy, and a cardiac arrest episode, before the cancer went into remission, a blissful period that lasted just four months – and then a relapse occured.

“At that point, I had to have the transplant. It was my only option,” explains Valerie. Fortunately, her younger brother was a perfect bone marrow transplant match – right down to the blood type.

It was nothing less than a miracle

And the doctors and nurses at Tufts Medical Center were there for her – from the moment of diagnosis, right up to the transplant, and after. “They became my second family. I mean, they’re even my first family,” says Valerie.

The transplant  process took 30 days. Valerie couldn’t eat or drink for 2 ½ weeks. If she tried to drink water, she’d spit it right out. But in the end, she stayed positive, and the bone marrow transplant worked.

For 12 years, Valerie has been cancer-free

Even though she is in remission, Valerie has kept in touch with her care team at Tufts Medical Center. Her doctor, Kellie Sprague, MD even attended her youngest daughter’s wedding. Even though Valerie has moved away from the Boston area, she’ll always stop by and visit her care team when she’s in town.

“They never forgot me, which blows my mind – even 13 years later,” says Valerie.

So when it comes to giving back, Valerie says she has a lot to give. She’s forever thankful for her care at Tufts Medical Center – and for being treated as a friend, and not a number.

“I’ve never been so comforted by nurses, doctors and fellows as much as at Tufts Medical Center. They’re just there for you 24/7,” she smiles.

A patient at the Cancer Center at Tufts Medical Center.

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