Sophomore’s Battle with Cancer Inspires Campus

Univ. Communications – Life changed dramatically in a few days for 20-year-old Allison Eberhardt. On September 9th she went from being a first semester sophomore whose swollen throat was believed to possibly be strep, mono or just a very bad cold to an acute myeloid leukemia patient at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City just three days later.

Acute myeloide leukemia is a rare form of cancer with a more archetypal patient of a Caucasian male between the ages of 2 and 10 years old. It is difficult to determine when the disease starts as it progresses rapidly.

Eberhardt received her treatment on the pediatric floor of Sloan Kettering where doctors started her on the induction rounds of chemotherapy immediately. Eberhardt was given four induction rounds of chemotherapy; each round entailed the drug being pumped into her veins for 96 hours, she was then given a few days rest before starting the next 96-hour round.

The first month of treatment was incredibly challenging and nurses referred to her as Murphy’s Law because it seemed that anything that could go wrong did; while the chemotherapy tubes were being fixed her lung was punctured, she had an allergic reaction to the medicine, and the morphine made her faint!

On top of all the medication drama, Eberhardt’s hair began to fall out near the end of September. At first she tried to fight it by getting her hair cut shorter, but life became uncomfortable as she lost and left hair in random places like on her pillow. Even though she knew that the time had to come to shave her hair, Eberhardt remembers sobbing as the razor buzzed on her head.

Losing hair was just the beginning of the effects of chemotherapy, because it attacks fast growing cells, Eberhardt’s nails also stopped growing. Her digestive system was affected and she had an upset tummy that could not hold down any food.  “Every time I ate I was in pain,” she said. She lost 20 pounds that she really did not have to spare; she was 5’8” and only 127 pounds.

Murphy’s Law did not hold up for long in Eberhardt’s life though; after the fourth round of chemotherapy doctors found no cancer in her body. She is currently in round seven of chemotherapy, which is a maintenance phase, meaning she receives chemotherapy for a couple of hours and takes a lot of medication.

The battle against cancer for Eberhardt was not just physical it was also emotional. When she was first diagnosed with cancer she remembers thinking, “Cool, I’m going to die in a week.” But in the midst of that response something clicked within her and she decided that cancer wasn’t going to take away her good attitude; she was determined “not to succumb to the cancer.”

Eberhardt’s good attitude has made her an inspiration to thousands of people. She began to write a blog titled “Getting over a cold,” which was inspired by doctors at UHS who first attributed her swollen throat to a very bad cold. Eberhardt’s blog is a chance for her to share not just her journey but also her sarcastic humor about everything that she has gone through.

The blog has been a breath of fresh air both for her and her readers. Due to the risks of infection Eberhardt has been isolated and the blog is an opportunity for her to hold an emotional connection with the outside world.

During this trying time Eberhardt has also found incredible solace in music and began to record videos of her performances of songs such as Don’t Set Me Free, Someone Like You, and Turning Tables. The videos have been a hit and thousands of people have been impacted by her gift of song, something she finds so surprising, “I am just bored playing in my pajamas!”

Seeing the comments and messages people write has made her realize more and more what her story has meant to others. “It’s one thing to be told by your friends and family that you are an inspiration, but it’s different when it’s strangers who have no obligation to you” she said.

When Eberhardt was listed by the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog as one of the 10 most powerful cancer stories of 2011, this reality really sunk in.

As a result, Eberhardt sees this entire phase of her life through a different lens, “it’s incredible how much more good has come because of this and it’s weird to say because cancer has such a bad connotation.”

One of the good outcomes is how much cancer has changed her, as a genetics and psychology major Eberhardt is thinking about conducting cancer research after college and plans to volunteer on the floor where she was treated, spending time with children and encouraging them because she knows what they are going through.

“I have learned to appreciate a lot of things; I was on bed rest for a long time and they finally allowed me to walk and I got very excited about that!” Eberhardt said.  “There was a little girl who had to have her leg amputated and another girl, who because doctors had never encountered her form of cancer before, passed away. I realize that it could have been so much worse.”

Eberhardt recognizes that this journey would have been more difficult without the support that she has received. Even before she began reaching out to the outside world the outside world was reaching out to her. Various students at the University sent her encouraging Facebook messages and former teachers and her father’s coworkers raised money. “People I have never met are being so generous,” she said.

On Saturday, Jan. 21, the outside world again reached out to Eberhardt and other leukemia patients in the form of a benefit concert. Vocal Point, the a cappella group that Eberhardt is a part of, and various other performance groups on campus came together to create “Rock Out For Leukemia Research”, raising funds to be donated to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and to Eberhardt, to help offset health care costs.

While Eberhardt was unable to make a personal appearance at the concert, she was a part of the occasion and shared her presence through the familiar medium of video.

Article written by Audrey Kusasira, an intern in University Communications who is pursuing a Master’s of Science degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at the School of Medicine and Dentistry. Photo courtesy of Allison Eberhardt.