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Anna Tower-Kovesdi survived Leukemia a form of Blood Cancer with Chemotherapy & Immunotherapy




In today’s Cancer Interviews podcast with your host Bruce Morton, we will learn how Anna Tower-Kovesdi survived leukemia, a form of blood cancer with chemotherapy and immunotherapy cancer treatments.

 

Anna Tower-Kovesdi moved to the United States from Hungary in 2021.  A public relations specialist in Longmont, Colorado, she loved hiking and mountain biking and just about anything in the great outdoors.

Then one day she noticed an unusual set of bruises on her legs and found herself feeling unusually fatigued.  She sought medical attention at an urgent care, which led to a series of tests and a diagnosis of leukemia.

Anna reacted to her leukemia diagnosis with a mixture of helplessness and optimism.  She was given only one treatment-related option: chemotherapy with the possibility of a bone marrow transplant.  Because she reacted favorably to the chemo, subsequent tests indicated she did not need a bone marrow transplant, but at the outset, she was told she would need to undergo chemotherapyfor three years.  Based on still more tests, doctors revised her regimen to that of chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

Her care team had relatively little experience with immunotherapy, but with a regimen lasting only six months, Anna was given the option to treat her cancer exclusively with immunotherapy, an option she chose. 

She was glad she went with immunotherapy.  As is the case for just about anyone on a chemotherapy regiment, it wasn’t pleasant.  Anna was hospitalized for 37 days because of an infection stemming from the chemo.

During this difficult time, Anna received tireless support from her husband.  At first, she wanted her family in Hungary to stay there, but when the time was right, she invited them to Colorado.  A few short months later, it was a major accomplishment to go on a short walk with her sister and mother.

If her health pre-diagnosis could be described as 100 percent, Anna says these days is close to 85 percent.   Perhaps not with the old vim and vigor, she can go on walks, go on hikes, get to the gym, and go swimming.  She also plans to resume international travel and plans to lead a full life.

Anna has shared her journey on social media and makes herself available to others diagnosed with leukemia.  Her advice to others is to never lose hope and always maintain a positive attitude and a sense of humor.


Transcription:


Anna Tower-Kovesdi…

 

Bruce Morton: A diagnosis of any type of blood cancer is devastating, but our guest on this episode achieved survivorship.  This is the Cancer Interviews podcast, and I’m your host, Bruce Morton.  Anna Tower-Kovesdi of Longmont, Colorado overcame a diagnosis of leukemia, and now she wants to help others.  It’s time to hear her story, and Anna, welcome to Cancer Interviews.

 

Anna Tower-Kovesdi: Hi, everyone, and thank you, Bruce, for having me.

 

BM: First off, Anna, let’s get to know a little bit about you.  If you would, tell us a bit about your life away from cancer.  Where are you from, what do you do for work and what do you do for fun?

 

ATK: I am originally from Hungary.  I moved to the US in 2021, so I moved here to be with my husband.  I work in public relations, and I really like being outdoors, being active and everything in nature from hiking to mountain biking, swimming, kayaking, everything. 

 

BM: Anna, each cancer journey has to start somewhere.  Tell us when you initially noticed that something wasn’t quite right with your health.

 

ATK: For me, the diagnosis was really out of the blue.  I like to be active and I try to lead a healthy life.  I thought a cancer diagnosis could not happen to me.  Back in December 2021, I was diagnosed a few days before Christmas and actually I only got symptoms one week before.  Two months before that, so in October of 2021, I had COVID.  It wasn’t anything serious.  I had a little, light cold, I was tired.  Then after that I didn’t feel well.  I thought it was perhaps long COVID, but nothing special.  My husband and I were in Chicago.  On the second day, I was feeling very feverish.  I got my period, which was very heavy for a few hours. That was the first sign that I thought something was off.  I had never had this before.  It was just very weird.  We got home and the same feeling continued, but I went up to the bedroom and I was out of breath.  I washed my hair and before dressing up, I had to sit down.  I was so tired.  I didn’t think about anything serious.  Then one day before my diagnosis I noticed I had bruises all over my legs.  I had recently gotten a massage and I thought this one might have been done a little harder.  But I felt in my gut like something is off.  On a Sunday morning, December 19, 2021, I went to the urgent care just to make sure everything was fine, and it wasn’t.  They did a lot of blood work.  I spent three hours at the urgent care, which was very weird to me.  They didn’t really say anything, except that I might be anemic, I might need a blood transfusion, which at the time was the craziest thing I could ever think of.  I went sent home and they told me that night they would reach out the next day with the test results, but that same night, they called and said I needed to be there in an hour. 

 

BM:  And what happened when you returned?

 

ATK: So, I went to the ER.  They led me to a room, put me on an EKG, did the bloodwork.  Then they said there was an 80 percent chance I had leukemia.  I am a positive person, so I wanted to know what the other 20 percent was.  The doctor just nodded her head and said it’s leukemia. 

 

BM: Each cancer equation is a bit different, as each person and each diagnosis is different.  Given these variables, how did you handle this news?

 

ATK: I told my husband that I don’t want to die.  I honestly don’t remember everything.  I think I was in a shock obviously at that time, but I do remember telling my husband I don’t want to die. 

 

BM: We’re confident you’ll be able to learn some tips and tools to help you through your personal cancer journey, but first we’d like to invite you to give us a ‘like,’ leave a comment or review below and share this story with your friends.  Kindly click on the Subscribe button below and click on the bell icon, so you’ll be notified the next time we release an interview.  And if you or a loved one are facing a cancer diagnosis, please click on the link in the Description and Show Notes below to check out our free guide, “The Top Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I First Got Cancer.”

 

For you, Anna, you had just learned that you had cancer, and as you said, you didn’t want to die.  For any of us diagnosed with cancer, there is this feeling that it is bigger than we are.  That said, did you have this feeling of helplessness?

 

ATK: Obviously, yes.  I didn’t know anyone who had cancer before.  I thought cancer was a death sentence.  I saw movies with everyone vomiting.  They were pale and weak.  Early on with my husband, we said we were going to do this, no matter what it takes.  This is not a death sentence.  It is a pause in our life.  I will get cured, and I will be fine.  I had plans for the future. 

 

BM: Anna, different types of cancers have different treatment options.  For example, I am a survivor of prostate cancer, which affords those diagnosed many treatment options; but what about you?  Were there numerous paths you could have taken?

 

ATK: No, I was offered only one.  That was because leukemia can move very fast.  It was just a chemo-only route, and very soon we would be able to tell if the chemo works or not.  At the time I did not know if I would need a bone marrow transplant, but the main goal was just the three years of chemo.  Thank God my body reacted favorably to the chemo, so I didn’t need the bone marrow transplant.  As it turned out, I had one year of chemo and two years of immunotherapy.  They had less experience with immunotherapy, but at six months, it was a shorter treatment with less side effects on the organs, but it was a continuous process with an infusion bag.

 

BM: Anna, it sounds like you are glad you chose immunotherapy.

 

ATK: Yeah, absolutely.  You know, it was almost a year shorter than we had planned, which for me was a huge success.  When I was initially told it was going to be a three-year treatment, I was shocked, but a shorter treatment duration and fewer side effects, preserving my organs as much as I can, these are huge things.

 

BM: There are people who are watching or listening who have been diagnosed with leukemia or they know there is the possibility they could be so diagnosed, and they know there is the high probability of their having to undergo chemotherapy.  It’s never pleasant.  For you and your chemotherapy experience, what was the toughest part?

 

ATK:  For me, the toughest part was being in a hospital for 37 days at the beginning, and part of that was getting an infection from the chemo.  The infection led to dehydration and a lot of weight loss.  Maybe that was the hardest part.  Then there was getting weak and tired and being nauseous all the time.  I was lucky I didn’t vomit as often as I thought I would, but I was nauseous for weeks and that was really hard.

 

BM: During that time, it would be instrumental in your road to survivorship if you get support.  If you would, describe the support you got from your husband.

 

ATK: He was the best caregiver I could have imagined.  I am lucky that he was so supportive.  I have thought many times I could not have survived without him.  All the love, and leaving me alone when I needed to be alone, I got everything and I think that is an important part, helping me in the shower or escorting me to appointments, making me breakfast, he was there all the time, seriously, 24/7, and I cannot be grateful enough with the amazing support I got.

 

BM: How about your family in Hungary.  If they are in Hungary and you are in Colorado, I suspect there are ways they can support you from a distance, but to some degree frustrating that you two were so far apart?

 

ATK: It was my decision that they didn’t travel immediately.  My sister was actually in Florida at the time and my parents were in Hungary.  I felt like if my mom would visit me, I wouldn’t be a strong because I would be thought of as her little baby, and I felt like I needed to be strong for myself, for my husband.  Then, ten months after my diagnosis, my mom and my sister could come to visit me as I was in a better place.

 

BM: You talked about getting into a better place emotionally, but what about physically.  Was there a time in which you felt you were getting closer to survivorship? 

 

ATK: Seven months after I got the diagnosis, I got the infection which put me in the worst physical state during the whole treatment.  One month after that, it looked like I got a secondary cancer diagnosis, and it looked like I would need a blood transfusion.  I was taken to the hospital for a bone marrow biopsy.  The results looked better, so I was allowed to leave the hospital as we waited for more detailed results.  After a month or so, the results were better and in fact I didn’t have a secondary cancer and we could go back to the original treatment.  It was a crazy rollercoaster, very tough emotionally, but mentally by the time, September 2022, I felt strong enough to see my mother and my sister and go for a 30-minute walk.

 

BM: And how exciting was that?

 

ATK: It was amazing.  I hadn’t seen them for a year or so.  I felt like I was getting a huge source of emotional support.

 

BM: Anna, if you could say that your health was 100 percent prior to your being diagnosed, how would you quantify it today?  How close are you to 100 percent?  Is there anything you cannot do, and if so, what?

 

ATK: It’s really hard to say because I don’t know how I felt before diagnosis.  I would say 80-85 percent.  My immune system is not great.  Some numbers are lower than they should be.  I have done a few shorter hikes.  I walk every day four or five miles.  I try to go to the gym a few times a week.  What I cannot do, I think there is nothing.  I recently had my chest port removed.  I am able to go to a swimming pool.  I can travel, even internationally, so I think right now there is nothing I cannot do.

 

BM: That’s outstanding news.  Many people after achieving survivorship want to say or do things to help others?  How have you endeavored to help?

 

ATK: From the start I shared my story on social media and where ever I could because I wanted to share the worst part of it.  I wanted to share my story because cancer is such a scary topic and people don’t know enough and I wanted to give hope to other cancer patients.  That’s my main goal to give hope to others, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

 

BM: Anna, now it is time to bring our conversation to a conclusion, and we will close with the following question.  If you encountered someone one-on-one, someone who had just been diagnosed with leukemia, that person might have a lot of questions and you a lot of answers, but if there is one thing you have to say to this individual, one thing you want to make sure they remember, what would it be?

 

ATK: I think I would tell them that they should try to stay positive and never give up and keep their humor because that can help, going through all of it.

 

BM: That bit of information can pack quite a wallop as one goes through a cancer journey because it is so important to stay positive.  Anna Tower-Kovesdi, thanks so much for sharing your story with us, thanks for taking the time to be with us on Cancer Interviews.

 

ATK: Thank you so much.

 

BM: And that’ll do it for this edition of the Cancer Interviews podcast.  As we always say when we close, if you or a loved one are on a cancer journey, you are not alone.  There are people out there like Anna, with a message that can inform, inspire or both.  So, until next time, we’ll see you on down the road.





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