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Leukemia patient credits Dunwoody neighbors for pulling her through recovery

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Lauren Cessna

The Cessna family, Chris, Lauren and their two-year-old daughter Ava, woke up on Aug. 31 to a huge display in their yard celebrating the news that Lauren is cancer-free. 

DUNWOODY, Ga. — Lauren Cessna was about to give up.

The Redfield resident, who was diagnosed last summer with acute myeloid leukemia, a rare and deadly type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow, underwent a bone marrow transplant in December using cells harvested from her father. While the transplant was successful, tests revealed a mutation that could have caused the leukemia to return.

Her physicians recommended rounds of chemotherapy to irradiate the mutation, known as MPM1, but the process was almost unbearable, because Cessna had undergone chemotherapy and whole-body radiation before her transplant. She also suffered from debilitating side effects like graft versus host disease.

“After five rounds of chemotherapy, my quality of life had been reduced to nothing,” she said. “All I did was sleep. I was so tired. I was so sick. I was about to the point of giving up.”

Cessna, who is married and the mother of 2-year-old Ava, said after the fifth round, the mutation was still present, and she was ready to roll the dice and explore the possibility of ending the chemotherapy

“I asked my oncologist, ‘Is this something I can live with?’” she said. “Because I really couldn’t do it anymore. They asked me to do just one more round, which happened in June.”

And then, the mutation disappeared. She received the news on Aug. 30.

“When I found out, I was speechless, and crying, all at the same time,” Cessna said. “It was such a relief to finally get some good news.”

The news spread like wildfire through the neighborhood, much as it did when Cessna was first diagnosed last year, when 200 “Lauren Strong” signs adorned yards throughout the Redfield subdivision. But this time, it was all about celebrating her latest news.

Dunwoody mother gains support in fight against deadly condition

Last Tuesday, the family woke up to a huge display in their yard that proclaimed, “Lauren Strong Cancer Free.”

The outpouring of love and support throughout the process has been overwhelming, she said.

“In a world where there is so much bad news, what people have done for me reminds me over and over again that people are good,” Cessna said. “The little things, like dropping off a dinner, a present for Ava, or a puzzle, made a big difference.”

Cessna said she feels she has been given a second chance at life. Before the transplant, her chances of a full recovery were slim. Little is known about the disease, and it’s extremely rare that a healthy 32-year-old woman would be diagnosed with AML. Now, the statistics are in her favor.

“With a successful transplant and no mutation, there’s a 60- to 70-percent chance of a full recovery,” she said. “I can now think about a future that involves less time in the clinic, a reduction in medication, my hair growing back, possibly going back to work, and so many other things.”

While she is grateful for her medical team, Cessna said her friends and neighbors provided a never-ending supply of optimism that was invaluable as she battled through the grueling procedures.

“There is another side, the mental side, that doctors can’t provide,” she said. “I can’t put into words what this neighborhood means to me.”

Cathy covers local government and community news for the Dunwoody area.

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