Tara’s daughter, Kaylena, spent the first two months of her life at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach. She was diagnosed with heart failure caused by a stretched valve, which required multiple heart surgeries. After Kaylena healed, Tara’s life returned to “normal,” for a short time. Just months later though, Tara’s life was turned upside down again. It was now Tara’s turn to fight for her own life.
In November 2014, Tara visited her primary care physician, Abigail Fletcher, M.D., for a check-up at the MemorialCare Medical Group, because of symptoms like a heavy menstrual period and bruising on the legs and skin grooves, which had been occurring for months. Tara was referred to Nilesh Vora, M.D., oncologist, MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute, Long Beach Medical Center.
After Dr. Vora received Tara’s biopsy, he called and ask her to come to the hospital as soon as possible for further testing.
“I just stared at Dr. Vora when he told me I had Acute Myelogenous Leukemia,” says Tara. “It felt like we stared at each other for an hour because I was in such shock.”
Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the myeloid line of blood cells. This relatively rare disease quickly produces abnormal white blood cells, which accrue in the bone marrow and restrict the production of normal blood cells. AML is a rare disease for those under the age of 40 and is more common in men than women. Overall, it accounts for 0.8% of all cancer diagnosis, and for those between ages 25 and 64, like Tara, there is only a 40 percent chance of surviving five years or more.
“The first words out of my mouth were ‘I have three small children. I am not going anywhere. Let’s fight this,’” says Tara.
“I learn a lot about a patient’s determination based on their first reactions, and Tara’s was one that I will never forget,” says Dr. Vora. “I knew she would be a fighter, which was good since her cancer was unique in someone so young.”
Two weeks after her diagnosis, Tara began her first round of chemotherapy, which lasted seven days. Before chemo started, she decided to shave her head because that was one thing she would not let cancer take away from her.
“Tara has an unbelievable sense of strength,” says Dr. Vora. “She is a very impressive woman.”
After a month, Tara was in remission and had consolidation chemo for a week. Since she spent Thanksgiving and her 40th birthday in the hospital, she was hopeful of being home Christmas Eve with her children. On Dec. 22, she was sent home and was given the “all clear” on Christmas Eve.
Despite her progress, Tara developed myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), which is when some of the cells in the bone marrow are damaged and have problems making new blood cells. This caused Tara to have low blood counts. She needed a bone marrow transplant as soon as possible.
Tara had a successful bone marrow transplant on March 13, 2015. It was a miracle that a donor was available so quickly. She now looks forward to continuing her recovery and living her life fully.
“When I think of Tara, I think of the strength within her and also the strength around her,” says Dr. Vora. “The strength came from her daughter. Without it, Tara may not have had a success story.”
Tara expressed the convenience and positive impact of having both Miller Children’s and Long Beach Medical Center on the same hospital campus for her and her family, adding, “There is honestly no other choice as to where I would receive treatment.”
“The care teams at Miller Children’s saved my daughter’s life,” said Tara. “As for Dr. Vora, he is one of the rarest and unique physicians I’ve ever met. He never made me feel like I had a disease, I was just Tara. I will always be thankful for him.”