Happy new year from Leukemia Texas!
We love to share powerful stories from our community and spotlight those individuals who have greatly benefited from our LTX programs. Natalie Turner shared her and her twin sister Sarah’s story with us at the 2023 BeatLeukemia Ball. Below is an edited, shorter version of Natalie’s speech from the Ball.
I will never forget the morning on Jan 12, 2020, when we woke up for church the first Sunday of the Spring 2020 semester. Sarah and I were students at Baylor University. We studied the same thing – both triple majoring in BBF, Accounting, and Spanish, with plans to earn our master’s degrees. It was our sophomore year, and we had just come back from Christmas break.
Sarah was so sick over the break. We had recently taken her to the doctor, if only they had run a CBC. If only they had pursued the symptoms further – before dismissing it as the flu and prescribing Tamiflu. But what primary care doctor could you expect to know the signs of cancer – to know the common symptoms of those diagnosed with leukemia.
This Sunday morning, Sarah had a really high fever. I remember she looked pale and could barely sit up in her bed. I had never been so scared if my life. Sarah, being the resilient, faithful person she was, asked me to take our friends that we had invited to church anyways, and she could stay home if she had to, but I knew she needed to go to the ER.
It wasn’t until about a month later after in and out hospital stays at Providence in Waco that we received the news of the bone marrow biopsy results. Sarah had such confidence even still. There were tears, of course, but she was still smiling. She proceeded to unenroll from Baylor that Spring semester, which she made up for just as quickly over the summer during her stem cell transplant.
That summer of 2020, Sarah underwent a bone marrow transplant. She spent over 30 days in the hospital, but she was able to be cancer free for 6 months. This was an incredible blessing and gift of time God gave us together. Time is precious, not one of us are guaranteed another day, cancer diagnosis or not, and it was great to have that time for more memories and photos.
I remember standing up at her funeral, and part of the words I shared were, and I quote, “I don’t know what life is without Sarah in it.” I think to this day, a little over 2 years later, I still don’t know what life is like without Sarah in it. My life is much different, but I see her in the things I do, and I feel she is still with me every day.
Sarah’s leukemia diagnosis was difficult for her most importantly. No one suffers as much as the patient suffers. I know there are loved ones in this room who may feel differently. Believe me, I’ve never experienced something so painful being her twin sister alongside her through it all. But I would never take away from what she ultimately went through – to me, the unimaginable.
It was of course difficult for my parents too. I’ve never seen such a warrior like I’ve seen in my mom who cared for her like no one else in our family. And a giver like my dad who provided for our family and helped with food deliveries to the hospital.
It was hard on our friends too, but some of them stepped up in ways we could have never deserved. The people at Leukemia Texas, specifically Mandy Flaming, who supported Sarah with sending care packages and organizing an opportunity for her to speak about her diagnosis and treatment journey with Jenny was the sweetest gift ever.
Since Sarah’s passing, I’ve been able to share about her life with others. Sarah has left an amazing legacy. The wonderful Accounting department at Baylor even created a scholarship in her honor which has been paying out aid to business students since this last Fall 2022.
For background on how Sarah got connected to Leukemia Texas, she was so determined, that she just started applying for scholarships at nonprofits she had Google searched. No one in our family had been diagnosed with Leukemia before. Sarah took the initiative and was looking for support on her own. I remember proof reading a few of her essays and being the proudest most amazed most humbled sister ever to see the support come in from Leukemia Texas and other organizations. My family has received a lot of support since her passing with the outpouring of love and continued connection with Leukemia Texas. It will forever be one of the organizations that means the most to me and is closest to my heart.
Everyone told me things would get easier with time, but if I’m honest life is a lot harder for me now than it was two years ago. Sometimes I think the challenge grows each day, but with it the growing opportunities to share Sarah’s story. To be able to speak life into friends’ lives whose family members have since received cancer diagnoses.
I would like to encourage everyone to consider giving to Leukemia Texas. You’ve just heard the story of my sister, Sarah, whose life was changed by cancer, but was also changed by Leukemia Texas in the way she was able to go through treatment with peace and without worry about the medical costs, the hotel and travel expenses. She was able to have peace in her cancer journey because she wasn’t thinking about the logistics since the people at Leukemia Texas provided for us to take care of those.
Her spirit was uplifted by events like filming a video for the Ball and talking with Mandy. Leukemia Texas helped Sarah, me, and our family to feel seen, known, and loved. It made the idea of cancer less scary. It became something that connected us, instead of isolated us.
Thank you, Leukemia Texas, and I love you, Sarah.