TODAY   |  November 24, 2012

Young woman blogs about life with leukemia

“Every time I said the word ‘leukemia’ I just started crying,” said cancer survivor Suleika Jaouad, who was diagnosed with cancer two years ago when she was just 22. Now cancer-free, she blogs about the experience and told TODAY’s Erica Hill the important thing is to use life’s challenges as opportunities.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> two and a half years ago, this woman had a life many people would envy. she just graduated from princeton, moved to paris, and was falling in love with her new city and a new boyfriend. and her life was turned upside down. we'll speak with her in a moment, but first, here's her story.

>> i was diagnosed in 2011 when i was 22. i remember as he said the words, i remember reading them on the paper and just feeling my heart sink down to my stomach.

>> it just felt like something stopped inside of me.

>> i lived in paris. i had an apartment there, a job there. my boyfriend was there. and suddenly i was in new york with a cancer diagnosis not knowing if i was going to survive the next few weeks. i got my first treatments with an incredible team of doctors. unfortunately, the second part of the biopsy results showed that i would need a bone marrow transplant .

>> when i found out that i could donate my bone marrow , i felt like i could actually do something to help her. and hopefully save her.

>> i feel very connected to him in this very intense way.

>> we were incredibly elated about hearing the good news that adam was a match, not only a match, but a perfect match .

>> there i was, her boyfriend having to put out her hair, which starts to come out in clumps. i think there was some real fear set in that day.

>> i have lost everything. i have lost my apartment, i have lost my job, i have lost my independence, i have lost my hair. but sheamus was still there and that made all the difference. i hadn't necessarily expected to be doing chemo therapy following my bone marrow transplant . basically what i do is i come here every morning for a week, once a month, and i receive my chemo therapy . it feels like your body is being poisoned. it's been difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that i need to feel worse in order to hopefully get better.

>> she's been through a lot and faced everything with courage, dignity. really, she has been an inspiration to us.

>> she is with us this morning. what a story you have. this obviously changed everything for you at age 22. it's the last thing you expect. and as i understand it, there wasn't a lot out there for you in terms of resources, which is one of the reasons you started a blog, correct?

>> when i first got diagnosed, i felt incredibly isolated. i was just 22 years old and i was the youngest person by decades in the adult oncology unit .

>> now you have this week lly column in "the new york times" writing about what cancer patients were doing in terms of sandy. how did that affect other people?

>> the first thing, when you hear that there's a hurricane coming or a storm, is to go through your mental checklist. do i have batteries? do i have a flashlight? my first thought was how am i going get to the hospital to do my chemo therapy treatments. when i called the hospital and realized that they were closed for the day, i started thinking how am i going to get in touch with my doctors, if i run out of medication, what will i do? and there was this whole host of concerns that i never would have thought of before. until my diagnosis.

>> and so you're still going through chemo now. but you're technically cancer-free?

>> i am. after two years of nonstop chemo therapy and a life-saving bone marrow transplant --

>> from your brother.

>> yes, from my younger brother adam, i'm finally cancer-free. i recently moved in to an apartment with my boyfriend and we adopted a rescue puppy a few months ago. so i'm feeling very hopeful for the future.

>> he seems like a pretty incredible guy being with you this whole journey.

>> he's been so incredible. we've been dating for about six months when i first got diagnosed. we're not married, but i think the whole in health and sickness thing has been interesting for us because we have the sickness part down and we're really looking forward to exploring the more healthy aspect of our lives together.

>> it will be nice to be at that point. before we let you go, what does the writing do for you? it's helped a lot of other people to know that someone else is out there. what does it do for you?

>> we all have life interrupted moments, whether we're dealing with unemployment, getting over our breakup, or taking care of an elderly parent. my life interrupted moment happened to be cancer. but the important thing is not to focus on the interruption. it's to figure out thousand cope with the interruption, how to grow beyond it and how to use it as an opportunity for change and self-improvement.

>> you're certainly a great example of that. a pleasure to have you with us this