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Mother of two, diagnosed with leukemia is ‘Aiken for a cure’

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Mother of two, diagnosed with leukemia is ‘Aiken for a cure’

Chelsea Aiken is 31 and has undergone numerous procedures including two bone marrow transplants. She’s been hospitalized for months, and happy to be back to her life at home with her husband and children.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

The signs were there - unexplainable bruises, fatigue, chest pains, swollen throat and bleeding from my nose and gums. Cancer was not the diagnosis she expected. But on May 16, 2019, Chelsea Aiken was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).

AML starts in the bone marrow, but quickly moves into the blood. It can spread to the lymph nodes, liver, spleen and nervous system. Leukemia accounts for about 35 percent of all blood cancers in the United States.

Aiken needed to act quickly. She immediately began chemotherapy. The weeks and months that followed were filled with ups and downs. The first of June 2019 her bone marrow was clear of leukemia but her counts weren’t high enough to get her hopes up. She spent days in the hospital, continually experiencing weight loss and fatigue. Aiken was specifically diagnosed with an aggressive mutation called “KIT.”

Married to Brian Aiken, she is the mother to two children and stepmother to three.

A resident of Lebanon, Ind. Aiken works as an operations manager for Gander Mountain. From the beginning of her diagnosis, she said her husband treated her “like a queen” and her employer has gone above and beyond to support her family – sending gifts and flowers and serving cupcakes decorated with the orange ribbon representing leukemia.

By July 2019 Aiken got the news she’d been waiting to hear. She was in remission, but by October she was admitted to IU Health University Hospital – the cancer was back. Aiken received her first bone marrow transplant on Oct. 19, 2019 in the care of oncologist Dr. Sherif Farag. As she approached the one year mark of her diagnosis, Aiken remained optimistic that the cancer was “staying in it’s own lane,” she said.

By January of 2020, she was back in the hospital for what would be her fourth surgery. More ups and downs followed – she needed a second bone marrow transplant. Her brother was tested and became her donor for the procedure on Feb. 2, 2021. Aiken was admitted to IU Health for transplantation on Feb. 17, 2021 and spent more than three months hospitalized.

“It’s a miracle she’s come this far,” said her husband. He shows a shirt with an orange ribbon created by friends and family members in her support group. The slogan speaks volumes about his wife’s determination: “Aikenforacure.”

After her recent discharge he said she is happy to be back home and is in good spirits.

“Dr. Farag has been amazing. Everyone has been wonderful,” said Chelsea Aiken. “It’s been a long road and it’s not over. Time is shortening but every day that I challenge this disease and survive it’s a victory for me.”

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