Beating Cancer and Getting Back to Her Classroom
Erika Carter got the call on September 24, 2015. Several months earlier, her routine bloodwork had shown an anomaly in her white blood cell count, which kicked off months of testing. The phone call on September 24 was from her doctor, telling her to come to the emergency room at the UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital. Immediately.
“I was numb,” Erika said. “I just kind of didn’t have any feelings at that point. I just couldn’t believe that my world was completely rocked.”
The 44-year-old second-grade teacher would not return to the classroom for the rest of the year. She was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a subtype of acute myeloid leukemia. The good news: this type of cancer is usually curable with fast intervention. And in Erika’s case, the cancer was discovered very early, which boded well for her treatment.
Over the next nine months, Erika underwent 128 chemotherapy treatments at the UK Markey Cancer Center, including a 19-day stint as an inpatient. Throughout her journey, she built a good relationship with the nursing team that took care of her, as well as with her doctor, Gerhard Hildebrandt.
“The team is not too big, so everybody knows the patients quite well,” Dr. Hildebrandt said. “Communication is very easy both among the patient and the care team and between the care team itself. I think it gives a level of personalized care.”
“They are always upbeat and friendly,” Erika said. “All across the board, the nurses were fabulous. I’ve gone back several times to see them. I really had a good experience.”
In August 2016, Erika was able to return to work after nearly a year off. Although her students are young, she said that many of them had some understanding of what she had gone through. She has a picture that says “We love Ms. Carter” and a banner signed by the entire school that she hung at the hospital.
“They were great, so great, in welcoming me back,” she said. “I’m just glad I had a story where I was able to come back, and [the students] are like, ‘OK, people can have cancer, but they also survive it, too.’”