“When I was diagnosed, I was 43, had small children, life was good. I had been working here (Vol State) for about 7 months, loved my job here, then BAM, just like a lightning bolt!”
In late January of 2007 ,Kenny Westmoreland, Writing Specialist at the Learning Commons, experienced what he thought were flu-like symptoms.
“I went to take a shower and I was so weak, I was unable to stand,” said Westmoreland.
He had recently had a flu shot, which he believed at that time may have triggered the actual flu. He decided to visit the doctor when the symptoms became worse and included frequent light headedness.
“Every time that I would stand, I would get light headed… Nothing like this had ever happened.”
Westmoreland went to the doctor on a Thursday February 1, 2007. That day, he was sent to the Cookeville hospital by ambulance, because the doctor first thought that he had a viral infection. On the following Monday, he was diagnosed with a, “Hairy Cell Leukemia", a rare form of cancer.
“The first thing to my mind was, this is not what I expected to hear,” Westmoreland said.
He received seven and a half days of intense chemotherapy treatments and 10 days of antibiotics. According to the Mayoclinic.com, there is no cure for hairy cell leukemia. But treatments are effective at putting Hairy Cell Leukemia in remission for years.
“I was clinging to hope,” he said. “I was thinking of the day I would be back to normal… I would lie in bed at night and imagine the things that I would see on campus as I park and come into my office."
Westmoreland was in the hospital until late March. During his time there he remembers how he felt,
“I had quite a bit of sadness because I wasn’t allowed contact with my children for a month. They had colds, and contact with a head cold could have killed me.”
According to Westmoreland’s doctor, because the cancer is chronic, he will probably have a reoccurrence within 15 years.
I asked him how he feels knowing that the disease could come back at any time.
“To be honest, it scares me,” he replied.“I haven’t had any flu-like symptoms since then, but the doctor said, if you start feeling funny or get a cut that won’t heal, come see us, we know what to do.”
Westmoreland continues to follow his doctor’s instructions and makes sure that he pays close attention to slow healing wounds.
“I did what the doctor recommended… I guess I was one of the fortunate ones.”
He has a friend whose 19 year old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia in the same year as him. Even after being in remission for foru to five months she was not so fortunate.
“I recommend regular check-ups… If you notice anything outside of the ordinary, anything not right, go to the doctor. If it had not been found, or if I didn’t go to the doctor, I would have gone into cardiac arrest.”
Westmoreland goes for his next check-up in January. With September being Leukemia, Lymphoma and Myeloma awareness month- signs of potential problems are something that we all should be aware of.