Pharmacy Tech to Cancer Patient: The Other Side of the Prescription
Mallory ran 10 miles one day in August 2015. It was the fifth year she had taken part in an annual race in her hometown, so she was surprised when she struggled to finish.
She was experiencing headaches and nosebleeds by September, but she shrugged off the symptoms, attributing them to stress and dry air. By the end of the month, Mallory was so fatigued she could barely get out of bed. Her gums bled when she brushed her teeth.
Still, she pushed herself to go to work. As a pharmacy technician at Diplomat, she was committed to her team and the patients she served.
“We filled the scripts that came down to the pharmacy. We would fill a lot. I love doing that. … You just knew at the end of the day that you are helping someone—that they were getting their medication because of you.”
The job kept Mallory on her feet, as she collected medications to fill prescriptions.
“I told my boss, when I walked in, ‘I’m going to have to sit down today. I’m not going to be able to run around and do this.’”
Her boss insisted Mallory see a doctor that day and made the appointment herself. The doctor sent her for bloodwork, then she went home to rest, hoping a day off would help.
When she dragged herself out of bed and back to work the next morning, her boss was worried. She encouraged Mallory to call for the bloodwork results.
“I had put it on speakerphone, because I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want them to tell me something over the phone and then when I get off the phone, I [have to] tell people.’ Then the doctor said, ‘It looks like you have leukemia. We’d like you to go see a specialist.’”
Mallory still hoped there was another cause for her symptoms—maybe the doctor was wrong. When the doctor’s office called back to tell Mallory to go straight to the emergency room instead of the specialist, she began to panic.
After three days in the hospital, countless blood draws and a bone marrow biopsy, it was confirmed: Mallory had acute myeloid leukemia. She didn’t know anyone who’d been diagnosed with leukemia. She didn’t know who to go to for advice.
“That’s what scared me the most—just not knowing anybody I could ask questions to—to ask, ‘What happened to you? What did they do? Did it hurt? What do you go through?’”
Mallory returned to the hospital a few days later for her first round of chemotherapy, which would last 24 hours per day for a week.
“I was told that I would have to be there for a month—not leaving, not going anywhere. That was really hard. I am a very social person. I love to be out doing things and being around people. I’m not really much of a homebody.”
Genetic testing showed Mallory carried a mutated gene, FLT-3, that meant chemo wouldn’t be enough. She would need a bone marrow transplant. She braced herself for a lengthy process of finding a donor. Though her brother and sister were tested, there was only a 25 percent chance either would be a match. Her sister was an especially unlikely candidate, considering her history of seizures.
Despite the odds, her sister was a perfect match. The bone marrow transplant was set for January 2016.
After her final, especially intense round of chemotherapy, Mallory received bone marrow from her sister. The transplant procedure took about five hours.
“It’s such a small process, but it’s such a huge thing in perspective. It was actually just a tiny little bag of blood they brought up to the room, and they hooked it up to my IV. It probably ran about 30 minutes, and really, that was it. Everyone thinks it’s such a huge ordeal. A bone marrow transplant—it sounds like a big deal. It is, but the process of it is so, so small.”
One hundred days after the transplant, Mallory was told she was in remission. She began taking oral chemotherapy daily to stay cancer-free and keep her gene mutation at bay. As a former Diplomat employee, Mallory knew what pharmacy she wanted to dispense her medicine.
“Being a patient at Diplomat has made it really easy. [My medication] is sent right to my house, and I don’t ever have to worry about it.”
Mallory knew Diplomat would do whatever it took to make her life easier. When she faced expensive copays, she turned to Diplomat.
“I knew if I kept continuing to fill at my other pharmacy that I wouldn’t receive copay assistance. One of my copays was going to be $250. Being on four or five other medications at the time, it was still a lot. I called Diplomat, and they helped me to reduce the copay down to $90, which was more manageable. … Being so sick and constantly in the hospital, I did have to make a lot of phone calls for myself. … Just knowing that at Diplomat, I could make one phone call and everything would be taken care of and everything would be done really eased my mind.
“It has come full circle—from working there to now receiving the medications from Diplomat. It’s something I never thought would happen, but I’m glad it happened. I’m glad that I get to see from somebody else’s perspective how things work and know that these patients are taken care of, because I’m taken care of.”
Mallory said she could not wait to get back to work at Diplomat. With her new perspective, she was interested in moving into a new role.
“I would love to be a patient advocate. Before I started chemotherapy, I had three days where I had no answers to any questions. I was a little overwhelmed by it, but at that point I was desperate to talk to anybody. … I would love to be that person for somebody. I would like to be able to answer those questions—even basic questions. ‘What do you take to the hospital? What should you expect there? What are things you can and cannot do?’”
Ready to get back to work and back to living, she even planned to run the same race less than a year after her diagnosis.
“It makes me think of being in the hospital, and one thing that I would cry about all the time—I wanted to breathe fresh air. I just wanted to be able to go outside. For me, to be able to run and breathe the fresh air … that’s going to be a good day.”