and his entire security detail—with bald heads does so much for the morale of patients and their families. "Many patients say that hair loss is one of the side effects they fear most after being diagnosed with cancer," says Michele Przypyszny, executive director of the New York City Chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. "It can add a lot of stress to an already-stressful situation." Having support from family and friends is key to maintaining a healthy body image through treatment, and seeing the former commander-in-chief shave his head, too? That's huge. I never lost my hair (I take a targeted drug for my type of leukemia that kills the cancer cells without harming the healthy ones) but my sister, Melissa lost her hair twice while going through treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma. And I remember how hard that was on her. She was diagnosed 18 months after me when she was 27 and seven months pregnant. Today, 12 years later, we are both doing great and because we feel so lucky, we spend lots of time raising money and awareness to help others fight their battles.Seeing the former leader of the free world—
I actually had the privilege of meeting the Bushes at a TJ Martell Foundation event years ago. They were being honored for their charity work and I was speaking about my experience. We got to sit at the same table and Barbara Bush gave me her sweater when she noticed I looked a little cold. (I was probably shaking with nerves from sitting next to the former first lady, but I accepted!). They were so nice and spending the evening with them (and Stevie Wonder!) was an incredible thrill. And because of that night, I wasn't at all surprised to see this photo today. Regardless of your politics, the former president did a very cool thing and it made me smile. And then cry, thinking about that adorable boy and his family. That said, I know Patrick is in good hands. He was just diagnosed with leukemia in the spring and has years of treatment ahead but according to his website, his prognosis is good. ALL (the type I assume he has) is the most common pediatric leukemia and the most common cancer in children aged 1-7. In 1964, a child's chance of surviving ALL was 3%, today it's about 90%. This is in part due to research funded by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
As a board member on two different blood-cancer charities (I sit on the NYC board of LLS and Gabrielle's Angel Foundation), I know how important celebrity support can be. A simple photo like the one of Bush, or a tweet or a nod of approval from someone in the spotlight can mean the world to families going through the nightmare of cancer treatment. It's why I have instant respect for any celeb who goes public with his or her diagnosis. "When a public figure like George Bush Senior takes action on behalf of someone with cancer, the general public not only notices, they take action too, whether it's spreading awareness through social media, making a donation, or even shaving their heads," says Przypyszny. "And it brings a smile to everyone's face!" Exposure like this can mean the difference between hundreds of dollars raised and millions. And fundraising is what helps find cures for kids like Patrick—and new and better treatment options for people like my sister and me. Gleevec, the drug I still take every day, was FDA approved just six months before I was diagnosed. Before this drug, people with CML had a 50 percent survival rate. Today, thanks to Gleevec, the survival rate is 95%. The drug was developed with funds from LLS and other charities, funds that came from people like you and me.
As a patient and a survivor and a major fundraising advocate, I just want to say thank you to the Bush family and good luck to Patrick and his family. You can read more about their fundraising efforts at Patrickspals.org. And if you or someone you know is diagnosed with a blood cancer, the LLS Resource Center is a great place to start.