Andrea (Andy) Snyder
Andy Snyder wasn't feeling well. She tried working through the day as a pharmacy tech at Cornerstone Medicine, but she thought maybe she should see somebody. So she headed over to Inspire Health, Yakima Valley Memorial's clinic for employees and their families.
"I was feeling off, but mostly nauseous and just dragging. I asked for something for the nauseousness. I got that and left," says Andy. "I still wasn't feeling good come Monday, so I went back in. The next day, Jennifer Martin (clinic physician assistant) called to check on me. She had a feeling and asked me to come back for blood work. I went in that day.
"I remember my dad was with me because I didn't feel like driving. We went out for lunch, and while we were there Jennifer called and asked me to come back so she could talk to me."
And there it was: acute myeloid leukemia.
"I was born in this hospital, I work at this hospital, and I spent my 40th birthday in this hospital," Andy says of that time almost four years ago now.
"Shocked?" Andy says to a question not-yet asked. "Who wouldn't be? I was stunned stupid at first. You don't know what to think. She told me my white blood-cell count was astronomical, which is indicative of cancer. I didn't know what kind of cancer, but she got me into North Star within a day or two. It was boom!
"Dr. Tony Ha did a bone marrow biopsy. Within the week I had another appointment, and he broke it to me. He admitted me to the hospital to start chemo that day. I was in and out of Yakima Valley Memorial for about two months. The staff at our hospital was just great. They saw to your every need. They all went above and beyond. I couldn't work, I couldn't do anything."
Andy then went to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and the University of Washington to prepare for a stem cell transplant. Stem cell transplants are used to replace bone marrow that has been destroyed by cancer or the chemo and/or radiation used to treat the cancer. Transplant lets doctors use much higher doses of chemo to try to kill cancer cells.
Andy's best shot for a stem cell match were her siblings. Four kids were born to the Snyder family of Toppenish. Andy's younger brother, Chris, however, died of T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a rare form of the malignancy, in December 2005. That left one brother and a sister as her best possibilities.
"They tested my sister and my brother, and my sister was my perfect match," Andy says.
Not only did Brooke, who also works at Yakima Valley Memorial (in patient access) give her older sister her stem cells, she went to Seattle and cared for Andy during chemotherapy, the transplant and until Andy's immune system recovered.
"They took the stem cells from her, and within a couple days they came into the room and they showed me the bag. It looked like a bag of blood, and they hooked me up. It was not invasive at all. That was on March 20, 2015. They say that's your birthday when you get your stem cell transplant, and my nurse came in and sang happy birthday to me."
And then you wait. "They want to be sure it takes," says Andy. "Because your immune system is so low they don't want you to be out, so you just have to wait. I stayed in the hospital about a month," Andy says.
And now? Cured. Every four months she heads to North Star for a checkup with Dr. Siva Mannem. "I feel good," Andy says.
And her relationship with Brooke, now her blood sister in more ways than one? "She told me, 'For the rest of my life whenever I put my hand out, you have to put a Pepsi in it.' That's the price for saving my life," says Andy, smiling.
Brooke adds, "People say Andy's ornerier now that she's got my stem cells; I'm the ornery one! We've always been close. I do think we're nicer to each other, but we still have fights -- we are siblings."
"I'm grateful, you bet," says Andy. "For all the people who looked after me. It wasn't a one-man show. I think, overall, there were a few hundred people involved. From the nurses and aides and the doctors who were upfront in my face, to the techs who took my blood, the receptionists who greeted me at appointments. So many people.
"I can appreciate all the little things better now. In this age, everybody is touched by cancer somehow."