She loves to smile, she loves to laugh and boy does she love crafting a colorful array of flowers in her front yard. Even though she can’t get back out in the garden yet, Inez Perry is already planning what the next arrangement will look like. This 88-year-old is determined to conquer her leukemia diagnosis.
Perry learned she had cancer during the summer of 2019. It started in May with a visit to her doctor.
“I hadn’t been feeling well for a few months and was running out of energy during the day,” Perry said. “Usually that meant my B-12 is low, so my daughter, Alicia, and I went to my family doctor’s office and asked to have blood drawn to check my blood counts.”
Perry, who lives in Dodge County, Georgia, has been a gardener most of her life. She moved into her current home in 1957 and wanted to build a beautiful garden full of different types and colors of flowers. Alicia Wilson said her momma always told her, “If you don’t know the difference between a weed and a flower, stay out of the garden.”
Wilson said the nurse practitioner did not see good results of the blood work, so she asked for another round of testing. After the second test, Perry was referred to Dublin Hematology and Oncology Care in Dublin, Georgia. With Perry’s condition getting worse week after week, the oncologist in Dublin requested a bone marrow biopsy.
“We got the results from that biopsy on Friday night, August 2 at 7 p.m.,” Wilson said. “When the oncologist gave us the news, he told us he called the Georgia Cancer Center in Augusta to let them know he was sending momma and me to see Dr. Jillella. I work for a major hospital in Macon and it never dawned on me to go to Augusta for cancer care. I was thinking we’d go to either Macon or Atlanta.”
Dr. Anand Jillella, director of Georgia Cancer Center Clinic, Ambulatory Services, Network and Outreach, has built a program to patients diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). Perry’s oncologist said Jillella was the best doctor to handle her case. Wilson said the treatment process started as soon as they arrived at 2 a.m. Saturday morning.
“I truly believe had she not come to the Georgia Cancer Center, she would have been dead in just a few days,” Wilson said. “We were very scared by how fast her condition and her blood cell counts were deteriorating. We trusted Dr. Jillella and his treatment plan. We knew he cared about helping my mom get better.”
Jillella’s program for APL requires patients to be in the hospital for several weeks. Perry and Wilson started the treatment process on August 3 and Perry didn’t leave the hospital until September 26. Wilson and her two brothers spent a lot of time on the fifth floor of Augusta University Medical Center. They would rotate time in Augusta with their mom and at home with their families throughout the treatment process. As part of her send off, the nurses, doctors and other support staff gathered around Perry as she rang the bell announcing the end to her time with in-patient care.
“It meant a lot to me to have all the nurses and the staff cheering me on when Alicia and I were getting ready to leave the hospital after ringing the bell,” Perry said. “You can see it in those pictures how happy I was.”
When she got home, Jillella ordered Perry to take a chemotherapy pill and an IV infusion. After the first round of treatment she underwent follow-up testing to see what her blood counts looked like.
“The last labs were taken in early December and Dr. Jillella was very pleased with the results.” Perry said. “I feel pretty good and more like myself then I did when this adventure started last summer. I turned 88 in January and had a wonderful day with Alicia and my family.
Wilson and Perry agree their focus is on getting stronger so Perry can get back in the garden and work with her flowers again.
“She has good days and bad days,” Wilson said. “But, she’s one tough cookie.”