Cancer survivor shares his story, words of wisdom for those also - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Cancer survivor shares his story, words of wisdom for those also battling cancer

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Rhett Blackwell is no stranger to the halls of Children's of Alabama.  Blackwell practically grew up in the hospital. 

"25 years ago, I started coming home with bruises," said the Blackwell.  "They told me I need to come to Children's and so I actually came straight here. After two weeks of testing, the very last test, they found out I have acute lymphocytic leukemia." 

Acute lymphocytic leukemia is a cancer of the blood that starts derives from white blood cells. It can be aggressive. 

"I really didn't know what the prognosis meant," said Blackwell in an interview with ABC 33/40's Larry Miller. "I probably had a lot of questions but my parents wanted to treat me just like I was a normal kid and just kept me positive." 

The prognosis did change Blackwell's life. He was in and out of the hospital, where he underwent grueling chemotherapy treatments before the cancer eventually went into remission. But then his health took a turn for the worse. 

"I relapsed in 1994 and this time I got to do 6 weeks of radiation and two and half years of chemotherapy," he said. 

Lucky for him, his second round of therapy worked. He hasn't had to undergo treatment in the last 17 years but he still makes regular visits to the hospital. 

"Even when you're off treatment, you still have to come in for checkups," he said. 

Blackwell attends informative sessions at Children's Taking on Life After Cancer Clinic. The sessions are meant to educate cancer survivors about some of the difficulties they could experience and how to live with cancer. 

"Some of the more common complications we see in our survivors are learning difficulties, growth impairment, fertility problems, second cancers, and heart and lung problems," said Dr. Kimberly Whelan, who heads the clinic. 

Dr. Whelan says 75 percent of survivors will develop some sort of chronic condition related to their diagnosis. So, survivors and their families need to be armed with information. 

"I try to stress to all of our survivors that they are just as healthy as they walk out of our clinic as they walked in," she said. 
 
As for Blackwell, he says he's better informed and doing well.  He credits his experience at Children's with keeping him both happy and healthy. 

 

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