Young woman who beat leukemia celebrates two birthdays

By Margaret Tucker

Dec. 1, 2020 – “To have two birthdays a year is a real gift,” says Amanda Pope, MBA, an employee communications director at Washington University in St. Louis. On July 20, 2010, she underwent a stem cell transplant at Siteman Cancer Center that cured her leukemia and gave her a second chance at life – a rebirth that she will never forget.

Amanda Pope 1Ten years ago, Pope was an active young woman in her mid-20s, working in marketing at St. Louis University and studying for her MBA at an accelerated pace. When she started experiencing breathlessness, extreme fatigue, and other ailments, no one imagined it could be something serious. She went to multiple specialists and doctors, underwent many tests, but had no answers.

“I was really busy, and everyone just assumed that I was overworked and stressed due to my hectic schedule and responsibilities.” Pope said.

After months, a simple blood test revealed she was severely anemic, and she was sent to the hospital. There, bloodwork revealed that she had leukemia.

“When you’re 24, and you have your whole life in front of you, it is really scary to get this news,” Pope said.

The physician who saw her in the ER knew that her case would be a tough one.

“He said, I could treat you here, but I’m going to send you to Siteman,” Pope said. “They’re cutting edge on this, and they’ll take care of you.”

Pope was admitted to Siteman that day, where she became a patient of Washington University medical oncologist Amanda Cashen, MD. Her acute myeloid leukemia was found to have a rare FLT-3 mutation, which meant that it would be difficult to treat and that a stem cell transplant would probably be her best hope for a cure. She underwent inpatient treatment for months, including several rounds of chemotherapy, and participated in a clinical trial for a new drug. Then, she received stem cells from an unrelated donor.

Throughout the long, challenging months in the hospital, both before and after her transplant, Pope never let herself lose hope. She drew inspiration from the photos of survivors on the walls of the floor and told herself that her life would go on.

“I kept focusing on the future,” Pope said. “I had so much support. My family was there for me every step of the way. I walked for miles every day, and did my best to find support, focus on faith and keep my strength.”

On the day of her transplant, she was ready for the cure.

She credits Dr. Cashen and the entire team of physicians and nurses at Siteman with helping to save her life and, what’s more, giving her the confidence she needed to persevere through her treatments.

“Dr. Cashen is amazing,” she said. “All of the doctors were there for me. They made it easy to trust them with my life. They’re my heroes, they really are.”

The team at Siteman understood that even though Pope was fighting leukemia, she still cared about life beyond her diagnosis. When she could not attend her MBA graduation ceremony because she was still undergoing inpatient treatment, they had her walk through the halls of the hospital wearing her cap and gown while everyone hummed the graduation song.

“They truly provide world-class care and expertise, along with compassion,” Pope said. “They show their patients so much support and empathy.”

Today, Pope is cancer free and makes the day of her transplant, or her “rebirthday,” a special celebration. She cherishes each day and constantly looks for opportunities to serve others through her work at Washington University.

“I built a better life because of this, and I am very grateful to have a second chance at life,” she said. “It is a true gift.”