Sorority adviser gets help in cancer fight

People outside the Greek-letter community can say what they want about fraternity and sorority life. Leukemia patient Michelle Crosby said she could spend hours explaining why everyone should join a Greek-letter organization.

“You just don’t know what you’re going to need and when you’re going to need it,” said Crosby, a recent rush adviser for the GW chapter of the Sigma Kappa sorority. “And, the support I have received from my sorority has been overwhelming.”

Crosby, 30, was diagnosed with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia in May when she was pregnant with her second child. When she became dehydrated during the pregnancy, a blood test and bone marrow aspiration revealed she had the disease.

She said she is lucky – many leukemia patients do not get diagnosed until they show symptoms, which is often too late. The symptoms include fatigue and swollen glands, which often are mistakenly identified for the flu, she said.

Crosby’s doctors told her the disease is not hereditary and no cause could be identified.

“It’s like getting hit by a bus,” she said. “It can happen to anyone without warning.”

GW’s Sigma Kappa sorority hosted a bone marrow drive Wednesday, and 181 people donated blood, said Lisa Gutman, president of GW’s chapter of Sigma Kappa. Those who donated blood might be asked to donate marrow if their tissue type matches the tissue of a patient in need of a transplant.

Crosby said she feels fine. She said the only fatigue she experiences comes from caring for her two-and-a-half-year-old son, Harry, and her seven-and-a-half-week old daughter, Maggie.

She said when she was diagnosed with leukemia, she was concerned the disease might affect her unborn baby. As a result of her illness, doctors had to induce labor, but Crosby said no other complications resulted and her daughter is healthy.

Despite her optimistic attitude, at times Crosby faces the gravity of her situation.

“If I don’t get a (bone marrow) donor, I die,” she said.

Crosby said the diagnosis changed her life in one major way.

“The No. 1 part of your life that changes is you finally begin to live for each day,” she said. “People always tell you to do that but now I’m really doing it.”

Crosby, who has been married for five years, said her husband, Joe, has been wonderful even though she said he cannot do much for her now. Later, he will have to work and take care of their children when she goes into the hospital, she said.

“He’s waiting to be called into battle,” she said.

For now, Crosby and her family are waiting for a donor. Crosby said potential donors are available and because she is young and experiencing no symptoms yet, she is a good candidate for a successful transplant.

Her newborn daughter is a possible donor. Crosby said her doctors took blood from the umbilical cord when her daughter was born and she said the blood might help her.

“When (college students) look down the road to a time when they might get pregnant they should consider donating the cord blood,” she said. “It’s painless to the donor and might save someone’s life.”

Crosby, an alumnae of Sigma Kappa’s University of California at San Diego chapter, became involved with GW’s chapter when she moved to the area in 1993. She served as a rush adviser from January 1995 until she was diagnosed with leukemia in May.

Sigma Kappa members said Crosby always donated much of her time and dedication to the organization.

“She’s the nicest person in the whole wide world and it’s such a tragedy that this happened to her,” said Ellen Blankenstein, vice president of Sigma Kappa’s Alumnae Relations. “We wanted to give back to her what she gave to us.”

Crosby said her family has been surprised to see how supportive her sorority sisters have been since she was diagnosed.

“There’s nothing finer than an organization that supports you all the time,” she said. “The nice thing about the Greek-letter community is that you find it everywhere you go.”

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