St. Jude follows patients for life to improve tomorrow’s outcomes

Published: Mar. 24, 2022 at 10:16 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - It has been 20 years since Mariangeles Grear was cured of childhood cancer at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

But care doesn’t end when treatment is finished.

Grear will be 35 this April, a milestone also marked by 21 years of being cancer-free.

At 13, she was diagnosed with AML, Acute myeloid leukemia.

“It was those words that changed our lives and our futures forever,” Grear said.

Mariangeles grew up in Maracaibo, Venezuela.

Doctors there delivered the diagnoses.

“They told my parents that I had a week left, and that I needed a bone marrow transplant immediately,” Grear said.

Two weeks later, she was at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

“I remember saying goodbye to my friends, because I didn’t think I was gonna make it, and that’s it. It was almost like saying goodbye for good,” Grear said.

Around the world, an estimated 400,000 children will get cancer each year.

St. Jude shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children.

“As soon as you get out of the car, the first thing you see is that big statue of St. Jude and it’s almost like he’s looking at you, like welcoming you and telling you it’s gonna be okay,” Grear said.

Mariangeles remembers feeling lost, not only was she in a new country, but also she didn’t know the language.

“I remember that for me it was a super accomplishment to be able to say my patient record number in English, by myself, and for them to understand me,” Grear said.

Her first week at St. Jude was challenging.

“All my... my body immune system you know started to go really low and it was a bacterial infection, a fungal infection that took me into a coma for about a week,” Grear said.

Doctors prescribed a breakthrough research drug.

“And that drug kill dead bacteria and here I am today 21 years later telling you my story,” Grear said.

Looking back, Mariangeles says she wouldn’t change a thing

“No, because although cancer does not define me, it has made me who I am today,” Grear said.

Today, Mariangeles is part of the St. Jude LIFE Study - research that brings long-term childhood cancer survivors back to St. Jude for regular health screenings throughout their adult lives.

To date, more than 4,300 participants have undergone comprehensive health evaluations through St. Jude LIFE.

Mariangeles also works for ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude as a development specialist.

“Working for St. Jude it was like a prayer answered. I’ve always wanted to work for St. Jude and give back and today I get to do it,” Grear said.

Mariangeles says it took time for her to be able to share her story because she did not want cancer to define her, and she now knows it doesn’t.

“I know that the work that we do here and with the help of the people you know buying those tickets for the dream home or supporting our radiothon we’re giving, we’re building hope,” Grear said. “I am a miracle and I am happy to say that St. Jude saved my life.”

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