Marissa Huddleston

Marissa Huddleston

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia

Gladstone, OR


Marissa Huddleston is a young woman from Portland, Oregon, who was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia at the age of 17. With this type of blood cancer, a piece of both chromosome 9 and 22 breaks off and attaches to the other, forming the “Philadelphia chromosome.” As captain of her high school dance team, Marissa was accustomed to minor athletic injuries. She first realized something was amiss, however, when she began to develop an excess number of bruises on her body despite sitting out of practice.

Over time, these bruises became lumpy, warm, and itchy, so Marissa decided to visit the doctor. After learning that she had a high white blood cell count, Marissa visited an oncologist and was diagnosed with cancer. Marissa underwent one week of intravenous chemotherapy. Then, just four and a half months after her diagnosis, Marissa received a bone marrow transplant from her sister, who was a perfect match.

To prepare for the transplant, Marissa was put on a drug called Gleevec. Sometimes called the “magic bullet” to cure cancer, Gleevec research was funded by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society--a beneficiary of Team in Training. Marissa is now an active member and fundraiser for Team in Training and uses her own experience to prove that fundraising for cancer research truly does save lives.

At the time of her interview, Marissa was celebrating her second year of remission. Members of the 2010 team have stayed in contact with Marissa and the Illini 4000 cherishes the support and inspiration she has given our organization.

Seek out Support

[Marissa underwent treatment at the same time as her friend Ashley, who was also a cancer patient.]

It really makes a difference if there’s someone there who knows what it’s like to go through [cancer] or who’s going through it with you because, you know, misery loves company... Having Ashley there, we got it--we could be there for each other. She was that friend when everyone else walked out because she knew what it was like.

[Ashley] helped me a lot and, honestly, I don’t know if everything happens for a reason, but if it does, then she was definitely there to help me through it. It was awesome to have [Ashley] there and I don’t know where I’d be without her there and without her support.

I really appreciate my family. They were there for me in a huge aspect. And my mom was there every single day, and I was in the hospital for I think two months...She’s here with me now and we’re running a marathon. We didn’t get time to train for having cancer and being in the hospital for two months, but we’re getting time and we’re training for this marathon. And we’re going [to cross] the finish line...together because it’s just so symbolic of how we finished [fighting cancer] together and we’re done with that.

Never accept defeat

This isn’t an ad for Nike, but just do it. Because seriously, there was a point in my treatment when I was not getting better... [One day] my mom took me outside, and I couldn’t even walk [and] I hadn’t seen the outside of [my room] in two months. She took me into this little courtyard...and it was hot and it was fragrant and beautiful and it just felt so good after being so sick. I think a breeze came in and I smelled the flowers and literally I just started crying. And then from that point on, I realized that I wanted to get better and that I needed to actually work at it.

I think a lot of people just get so used to being sick and so used to being cooped up in that little hospital room that they’re just like, “Well, this is how I am. I can’t do anything to make my counts rise.” But you can, you can do so much. And I think [you have to have] the attitude that you can do it, because that’s essentially all you have to do. Like I said, just do it because you don’t have any other option. That’s what I [believe], no matter how hard.

Using her cancer experience for the greater good

[Ashley and I] talked so much about going and sharing our testimonies, and being cancer advocates and fundraisers, and doing those things to give back together. And she’s not here to do those (things) with me, so I’m doing them with anyone else, and I’m doing them as much and as often as possible.

I want to go out there and I want to advocate for [education] and not just for the form of cancer that I had, but for any form of cancer. Obviously [kids are not] going to understand the BCR-ABL, and the Philadelphia chromosome, and those kinds of things in the 5th grade. But I think that they can definitely understand how to be a friend and how to treat someone that’s going through [cancer].

The best is yet to come

I don’t want to say [cancer] was a good thing, but honestly I think cancer was the best thing that happened to me in my life.
Now I have so many dreams and they’re so much bigger than [the dreams] I had before. I’d like to do a lot of things. I want to travel, and I want to write a book and I want to run another marathon. I have a bucket list, I want to fulfill it.

I think that when you beat something like cancer, then it propels you forward and it makes you think that you can do anything… I’m just grateful for everything and for everyday… I think it’s changed me a lot, but that’s just a little glimmer.