Leukemia survivor says community’s support beat her cancer
Jodi Shelton-Langley says Bonner Springs is a big part of what has given her a second chance at life.
With her daughter, her only immediate family, in law school in Arizona, Shelton-Langley turned to friends and neighbors last year when she was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Now, almost a year since her diagnosis, she is beating the odds and is cancer-free.
“I think it’s all in your attitude and having a support system,” she said. “You don’t have to have a family to survive cancer, but you do have to have people; you do have to have friends and a community.”
For nearly four years, Shelton-Langley was almost constantly sick, with perpetual maladies like strep throat, bronchitis and bladder infections. She also was gaining weight, despite her healthy lifestyle — walking 2.5 miles or more each day, eating what she grew in her organic garden, staying away from sugars and starches and very rarely eating meat.
She visited several different doctors. At one point, she spent a week in the hospital as doctors tried to determine if there was something wrong, but they sent her home — they couldn’t find anything.
Finally, a new doctor sent Shelton-Langley to a hematologist, who sent her to a pathologist, who found the cause of her constant illness: T-cell prolymphocytic leukemia, a rare form of cancer. It was July 12, 2011 — one day after her birthday.
“I wasn’t depressed; I wasn’t sad,” Shelton-Langley said about her diagnosis. “I was relieved. Because I knew something was wrong with me, and nobody believed (it).”
Shelton-Langley learned that she was only the 21st person in the world to have been diagnosed with the disease thus far that year. She also learned the cancer most often affects men over age 30, it’s aggressive and chemotherapy-resistant, and survival rates were extremely low.
Shelton-Langley went to Kansas University Hospital Cancer Center, where she found a doctor who had treated six patients with her type of leukemia in his career.
“I said, ‘Did one live?’ — I needed that hope that just one lived — and he said ‘Yes,’” she said. “And I said, ‘Well, then you will have two, sir.’”
In the next few months, Shelton-Langley had a round of chemotherapy with a new drug found to be effective for her cancer, radiation, and then two more rounds of chemotherapy. Then she received a stem-cell transplant.
She learned she also was a rarity when it came to stem cells. No one in the United States was a match for her. But through bethematch.org, a perfect match was found in Europe.
“The doctors were ecstatic. They said, ‘You must be related, because you’re one of the closest matches we’ve ever seen,’” Shelton-Langley said.
On Dec. 15, the day of her transplant, the nurses and doctors sang her “Happy Birthday” to wish her well in her second chance at life.
When her treatments had killed her immune system and left her home-bound, Shelton-Langley said the community came to her aide. Since returning home at the beginning of the year, she has received support from friends she grew up with in Edwardsville, old classmates and co-workers.
“The whole time this was going on, the town … they just came out of the woodwork,” she said. “Even people who were complete strangers, friends of friends.”
A friend of a friend hung Sheetrock in a room she had begun to renovate before she got sick. An area church helped fund and install a new water heater when hers broke down. Other friends took her dog, cat and house plants, which had to leave as she had to sterilize her home. Former classmates she’d reconnected with on Facebook sent her get well presents and cards.
The biggest loss for Shelton-Langley, who is a Master Gardener, was not being able to work in her garden. But a friend arranged for a Bible study group to plant the garden.
“They told me, next year you can garden, but not this year,” Shelton-Langley said. “The gardening has been the hardest part, because it is a spiritual place for me.”
Challenges remain for Shelton-Langley, who must go to the cancer center weekly and is battling graft-vs.-host disease. But she said the community’s support is helping her triumph over leukemia.
“This is the best town,” she said. “… I can’t say enough about this community; they loved me cancer-free.”