Sylvia Foushee, 71, was due for an annual physical. It was early September 2016. A native of Bahama, North Carolina, Sylvia visited her Duke primary care physician. During an examination, her doctor felt a mass that appeared to be in or close to her stomach. Her blood test revealed her white blood cell count was high, and after a CAT scan doctors discovered Sylvia had an enlarged spleen.
“I didn’t get overly upset,” said the woman, whose faith had seen her through the ups and downs of life. “After a bone marrow biopsy, I was told it could be one of three kinds of blood cancer.”
To her relief and that of her husband, Garland, Sylvia was told she had the least lethal and most treatable form of leukemia — chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a malignancy of mature lymphocytes that grow and divide slowly. Since most people do not experience symptoms early in the disease, many are diagnosed with CLL after a routine blood test in which the results indicate an elevated white blood cell count.
Sylvia, who treated by medical oncologist Veshana Ramiah, MD, at Duke Cancer Center North Durham, responded well to her chemotherapy. Her blood counts began to improve and she was on her way to a full recovery.
The escalating costs, however, associated with her medications proved to be a hurdle for the married couple of 50 years. Both had long since retired. Now on a fixed income, Sylvia had retired in 1993 after 28 years as an operator with General Telephone and Electronics (GTE) Corporation. Garland had retired in 2003 after a four years of service in the U.S. Navy and a 26-year career working for IBM.
Although Bible studies at West Durham Pentecostal Holiness Church had taught her faith could move mountains, Sylvia knew she had to “step out” to exercise her faith. She took to the Internet looking expectantly for financial assistance grants. There, Sylvia applied for a co-pay assistance grant with The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research, education and patient services. The society’s Co-Pay Assistance Program offers financial support toward the cost of insurance co-payments and or insurance premium costs for prescription drugs.
“The grant helped to relieve some of the burden,” said Sylvia, who also received a grant from the Patient Access Network (PAN) Foundation. “Relieved of worry and bolstered by an army of prayer warriors, I was able to concentrate on getting better.”
Ready to both help raise awareness and give back, Sylvia and Garland recently signed on to participate in the 2017 Light The Night Walk, an annual event hosted by LLS. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society currently funds more than $1 million in blood cancer research grants at Duke.
“I’m grateful for the exceptional care I received here at Duke,” shared Sylvia, whose mother was treated for cancer at Duke in the 1990s. “I’m also thankful for the assistance provided by LLS.”
The Light The Night Walk will be held Saturday, Oct. 28, at Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, North Carolina. Duke Cancer Institute honorary team captains include: Danielle Brander, MD; and Duke Raleigh Hospital president and leukemia survivor David Zaas, MD and his wife Aimee Zaas, MD. For more information or to register, go to Team Duke Cancer Institute. To join or to donate to Sylvia's LLS fundraising efforts, please visit The Foushees.