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Cancer 'has made me a stronger person'

March 13, 2009|By JANET HEIM

Undergraduate degree? Check.

Plan to attend law school? Check.

Leukemia. What?

Life was going according to plan for Jessica Watters, a 2004 graduate of North Hagerstown High School and 2008 graduate of East Carolina University who planned to attend law school in the fall.

Then, she hit a bump in the road. After a Labor Day weekend visit to her alma mater in North Carolina, she got sick with strep throat.

Watters, 23, chalked it up to lack of sleep that weekend, but after two visits to the doctor and no improvement, she feared something was wrong. She was prepared for a diagnosis of mononucleosis, but the doctor said she had acute myelogenous leukemia.

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"The next 37 days were a blur. It's a good thing ... the pain, nausea and medicine," Watters said of her hospitalization at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where she was taken by helicopter in early September.

"It's more than a shock. You never want your children to be sick," said her mother, Linda Watters.

After chemotherapy, Jessica Watters left the hospital in October with no evidence of leukemia and returned home for a few weeks before returning for a bone marrow transplant. Her brother, Sam, 26, was tested to be a donor and found to be a 50 percent match, which wasn't enough in her case.

A 39-year-old woman registered with the National Marrow Donor Program was a perfect match. Privacy policies prevent Watters from learning more about the donor until a year after the transplant, which was Dec. 3.

"I just can't wait to hug her. ... I'm sure she knows what she's done. It shows there's still good people out there," Watters said.

The transplant was a success by all accounts and Watters is leukemia free. Her doctors continue to monitor her with blood tests every two weeks, and, in May she will have a bone marrow biopsy.

"There are a lot of people praying for her. It's working," Linda Watters said.

Dave Watters, Jessica's father, also is a patient at Kimmel Cancer Center. He has been battling multiple myeloma since 2004. The disease is similar to leukemia, but there is no genetic link between the types of cancer with which he and his daughter were diagnosed.

"It really opens your eyes to everything. You don't take anything for granted. I have time to sit back and think about the next step," said Jessica Watters, who is weighing her career options, not sure she's up to the stress of being a lawyer. "It has made me a stronger person."

To help defray medical expenses, the Jessica Watters Medical Fund has been established at the M&T Bank branch at 13409 Pennsylvania Ave., Hagerstown. Donations may be made there.

People also may donate blood or become a registered bone marrow donor in Jessica Watters' name. More information can be obtained at www.marrow.org.

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