By Alyce Collins
THIS BRAVE woman was just FOUR when what her parents thought was the flu turned out to be pneumonia and leukaemia that had taken over NINETY-EIGHT per cent of her blood, leaving doctors in a catch-22 situation whereby prioritising one treatment over the other was likely to KILL her.
Childcare provider, Ana Denae Colgin (21) from Louisiana, USA, was just four years old when she was diagnosed with leukaemia and doctors gave her days to live, but her perseverance to get better saw her stun the doctors as she now celebrates being cancer-free for 8 years.
Ana, who was born deaf, came down with the flu back in 2003 and never recovered, so when her parents took her to the hospital, doctors saw from her weakened state that something was seriously wrong.
Tests revealed that 98 per cent of Ana’s bone marrow was leukemic and she also had pneumonia. Before Ana could be transported to a specialist hospital for treatment, she required two blood transfusions to survive the journey.
Unfortunately, the chemotherapy would progress Ana’s pneumonia which could kill her, but they couldn’t treat pneumonia without the cancer advancing. A team of doctors had to do small doses of chemotherapy before switching to antibiotics to treat the pneumonia until Ana was stable enough to receive just the antibiotics to get rid of pneumonia entirely.
During chemotherapy, Ana slept for an entire three days which concerned her family and doctors, who weren’t sure that she would wake up. To everyone’s disbelief, Ana woke up looking better and sitting upright, with enough strength to tell them she was hungry.
Ana completed treatment in October 2005 and was declared cancer free in 2010. During the treatment, a skin infection developed on Ana’s scalp which left her with a permanent bald patch on the back of her head.
Having her health back allowed Ana to flourish, but the bald patch was a constant reminder which hindered her confidence. In May 2017 Ana underwent surgery to conceal the bald patch and to finally put the experience behind her.
“A week before the diagnosis, my whole family came down with the flu, but I was the only one who didn’t get better,” said Ana.
“I was feeling really weak and I started complaining a lot about my belly hurting when I woke up. I was sleeping all the time but was still tired, and my face began looking sunken and pale.
“My mum took me to the doctor and the nurse just stared at me and said, ‘I’m so sorry’. She’d never seen a child so ill before.
“The doctor told my parents it was leukaemia and it was imperative that we choose where I wanted to get my treatment right away. They decided on St Jude’s but before I could fly out anywhere, I needed blood transfusions that evening so I could survive the flight.
“My doctor already called the staff at St Jude’s and gave them my complete history, so they could be ready for me. As soon as we arrived, they grabbed me and started tests right away.
“They discovered that my blood and bone marrow were 98 per cent leukemic, I had pneumonia from the flu, and I developed an infection on my lower back from where they tested the bone marrow.
“If they gave me chemotherapy for the leukaemia then the pneumonia would kill me. If they gave me antibiotics for the pneumonia and the infection, then the cancer would kill me.
“A team of nine doctors worked together to figure out the best course of treatment and they decided on small doses of chemo to try and kill some cancer first. After a few hours, they gave me antibiotics in my IV to help the pneumonia. They needed to get rid of the pneumonia first, so they could focus on the cancer.
“I was so weak, all I did was sleep. I fell asleep for three days straight and doctors told my parents that they needed a miracle. During this time my parents cried out to God, and they trusted in him.
“Shortly after that, I woke up and signed ‘I’m hungry’ and that I wanted to watch Cinderella. My parents were so happy, and doctors were in disbelief at how I was doing.
“I was sitting up and colouring and I looked so much better. I wasn’t completely better but the fact that I woke up was miraculous because they didn’t think I’d live the rest of the week.”
Ana went through chemotherapy for three years which had lasting effects on her bone strength. At the age of 17, when Ana took dance classes, doctors warned her that if her bone strength didn’t increase then she would be confined to a wheelchair.
Determined not to let this happen, Ana began weightlifting to improve her strength. Although it took a couple of years, Ana’s bone strength increased, and she is now healthier than she ever has been.
“I started taking dance classes a few years after I finished chemotherapy and it played a huge role in staying active,” said Ana.
“Unfortunately, when I was 17, my doctor told me that if my vitamin D levels didn’t go up then I would be in a wheelchair in my twenties as my bones weren’t strong enough.
“I started weightlifting and being more active and eating a lot of vitamin D fortified foods, so when I went for a check-up a year later, my levels had stayed the same.
“It was the first time my levels didn’t decrease. Then when I went back the next year at 19, they were finally increasing. I’m now the healthiest I’ve ever been.”
Ana also spoke about the bald patch she developed during treatment, which has affected her confidence for most of her life.
“Towards the end of treatment, I contracted a skin infection on my scalp. No one really knows how I got it, but they think it was from chemotherapy,” added Ana.
“It was an open wound and it oozed and bled, so I had to wear gauze on the back of my head. We found a doctor who wanted to try out a few treatments but first he put some ointment on it which healed the wound, but it killed all my hair follicles and resulted in a permanent bald spot.
“I let the bald patch deplete my confidence and I’d never wear my hair the way I wanted to. I always hid the patch with a bun or ponytail.
“Even when I wore simple styles like a bun, I had to hairspray and pin over the bald spot, so it wouldn’t accidentally show.
“On May 25, 2017 I had my first surgery to have the implants put in and then they were stretched over summer. My second surgery to remove the implants and sew over the bald spot was August 11, 2017.
“My journey with cancer up until now has been very humbling but I consider myself to be very blessed. My mental health is strengthened every day when I think of how I’ve beaten the disease and I’m thriving.
“I needed to trust in God because I’m a huge believer that I would not be here without him, not with how sick I was. You have to believe in yourself and believe that you are as strong and powerful as you feel.”
You can find out more about Ana’s journey at @anadenae.