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Posted on Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Christmas 2011 is a victory for 17-year-old ending her battle with leukemia

By Tom Perkins


Jasmine Mackey, 17, is nearing the end of her battle with leukemia.

Tom Perkins | For

One of the projects Ypsilanti Lincoln High School teacher Martin Jacob asks his composition class to complete is an essay called “This I believe.”

One student, Jasmine Mackey, wrote that she believes people need the help of others to persevere through life’s challenges. After all, she wrote, no one is invincible.

Mackey, who is now 17 and a senior at Lincoln, says this from experience, and knows it better than most kids her age.

She had just been released from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital the day before school started, one step in her recovery from Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a form of leukemia, which she is still in the process of beating.

But she remains optimistic and determined, and the end of December will mark the one-year anniversary of her radiation and bone marrow transplant. Those several days after Christmas she now calls her second birthday, because she started getting rid of her old cancerous cells and growing new cells that would again make her a healthy person.

“The obstacles that we all face are just that; obstacles,” she wrote in the essay. “Obstacles hinder progress; they do not stop it. We are all challenged daily by the world, but in us all is the strength to persevere and overcome. I was recently faced with a huge obstacle; I was diagnosed with MDS, myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of leukemia. This was a major reality check for me. I wasn't invincible.”

Mackey was diagnosed with leukemia early in her junior year, but managed to finish most of her school work online despite being hospitalized for 40 days, receiving a bone marrow transplant and undergoing radiation treatment. The National Honor Society member is now finishing two credits from her junior year while working through her senior year. Missing her senior experience with her friends, she explained, was unthinkable.

As she recovers, Mackey and her family want to raise awareness of leukemia in children and the issues that surround it, such as the lack of blood supply for African-Americans and the support available to patients from other survivors.

The journey has also motivated Mackey to pursue a career in medicine so she can use her personal experience to relate with and treat sick children. Her ultimate goal is to return to C.S. Mott to help kids heal instead of checking in for treatment.

Mackey visited the doctor on Nov. 1, 2010, after feeling lethargic and ill since school had started. Her family thought she was faking an illness to get out of school as teens sometimes do, but she said they became concerned when she could no longer take part in her favorite activity — band.

Within days, she was diagnosed with cancer and underwent chemotherapy just before Christmas 2010 with radiation and a bone marrow transplant after the holiday.

The search for a bone marrow donor began, but proved challenging. None of the 50 donors who doctors hoped would match Mackey's blood and marrow type would work, so the family pinned their hopes on a “cord” transplant. The procedure uses specially stored umbilical cord blood and is less likely to be rejected by the body and cause severe illness or death.

The successful transfusion occurred on Dec. 28 — a day Mackey now celebrates as her second birthday because it marks when the new blood began replacing the blood she was born with.

Mackey says the early days of her fight with cancer were mixed with disbelief, fear and anger, though she eventually was able to change her perspective and remain positive, which doctors told her was one of her strongest weapons in the fight.

“I just realized being angry wasn’t going to help, and dwelling on it wasn’t going to make it medically go away, so I had to deal with it,” she said. “I slowly started to deal with it and tried to stay positive."

Mackey’s mother, Amy Boyd, said she didn’t fully realize at the outset that the doctor her daughter had been referred to was an oncologist, who was testing for cancer. So the news that Jasmine likely had cancer caught her off-guard.

“I knew what leukemia was, but the only people I know who had cancer are people who have died,” she said. “It was a nightmare for me, my husband and our family. It was just that second our life changed.”

Following her transfusion, Mackey remained hospitalized for 40 days. The new blood cells, which made up “the new Jasmine” were still fighting off the old cancer cells, and her immune system was weakened.

Every two weeks she received blood and platelet transfusions, and It was during recovery that her symptoms were the worst. Her hair and nails fell out, she developed sores in her mouth, she couldn't barely eat or drink, her hands inexplicably felt like they were burning, she was nauseous and she developed mucositis.

As her health improved during her stay on the seventh floor of C.S. Mott, Mackey saw regular visits from healthy friends, got to decorate her room and spent hours with her mother.

She also grew fond of Mott’s seventh-floor staff, who she said talked with her on a personal level, came to a fundraiser and acted like friends as much as doctors or nurses.

“They took time out to get to know me, and it was just nice that they kept me company,” Mackey said. “I really think we became friends. It wasn’t just ‘I’m taking care of you and then leaving,’ they showed they really care.”

Meanwhile, the illness presented challenges for Mackey's family. Boyd took a leave of absence from her job and spent all but several days at the hospital. During those days, she was too emotionally and physically drained to be at the hospital.

The arrangement left Jasmine’s father, Keith Boyd, to care for the family’s other children and required him to take more time off work, which meant less income as bills began piling up. Meidcaid covered most of the medical costs, which Amy Boyd estimated were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The family also received support and donations from several organizations. The Rainbow Connection gave Mackey a shopping spree at Great Likes Crossing Mall so she could buy new clothes after dropping six sizes during her battle.

Alley’s Angels gave Mackey a gift card to buy her family presents at Christmas, and Just For Kids donated a $700 gift card to Meijer to help with items needed during recovery. And while Amy Boyd visited her daughter, Dorothy’s Daycare was able to get donations from neighbors to help with the cost of watching the kids and remaining open on Saturdays.

While she is getting stronger, she still isn’t able to do all the things she would like. She can’t play in the band, missed all of Lincoln’s football games, can’t do anything athletic and keeps a fresh coat of hand sanitizer on her hands to protect her weakened immune system. Still, she is able to help out with band, participates in student council and is hoping to join Key Club.

Mackey's condition is steadily improving, and her body is roughly 80 percent new cells and 20 percent old cells, which will eventually be destroyed. Her immune system is like that of a 9-month-old. Occasionally she falls ill and must be hospitalized as she did before school started.

“Now, nine months after my transplant I am doing as expected by my doctors,” Mackey wrote in her essay. “Of course I have my good days and bad days and bumps in the road as everyone will.

"The thing is though, life in itself is an obstacle and we must all be patient take a step back and continue to climb the walls that are built to keep us away from success and happiness. This I Believe.”


Lisa Adkins

Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 7:54 p.m.

Great story. We are so happy for Jasmine and her family. They are our family and it has been a long hard journey for them. May God continue to bless you and your family. Happy 2nd 1st Birthday and Happy New Year! With much love, Uncle Doug and Aunt Lisa


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 3:01 a.m.

Cancer and the Knowledge of the Spiritual Self: Thanks for sharing this story and it is a good reason to give thanks to the Lord God Creator who supports human existence with mercy, grace, and compassion. I do know that several children die each year due to cancer or other health problems. It may not be easy to explain the loss, but the recovery of some gives us a sense of hope. I am hopeful that proper understanding of the problem of cancer would help us to gain the knowledge of the spiritual-self. Knowing the spiritual nature of man will help us to overcome the challenges, and the obstacles that confront human existence. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Monica R-W

Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 4:32 p.m.

Inspiriting story Tom! Hope Jasmine continue to improves and God Bless her awesome parents, standing by their daughter's side during this battle. Beautiful holiday story!


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 3:13 p.m.

Have a very &quot;Merry Christmas&quot; and many many more.

Samantha Towler

Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 3:09 p.m.

Mr. Perkins, thank you for this wonderful article. You took this news worth story serious. Meeting with Jasmine, her family, teacher and doctors made the story an inspiration. During this interview, I saw how much this story touched you. You are not just a reporter doing the job, you take it full circle. Good reporting.

Samantha Towler

Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 2:09 p.m.

A great story for a wonderful person. So many people helped this family with their prayers and love gifts. We say thanks. With a phone call of cancer, our lives changed. We teach our children to be strong, have faith and be good parents, we hope to be successful. Sometimes we never know, yet this time, this illness allowed me to know what a strong daughter I had. When Amy, learned about her daughter illness, her world changed. She put us all to work. You do this and you do that. I will take care of Jasmine and you keep my other kids life unchanged. Her days in the hospital took it's toll on her. She missed her two babies at home, she had to stay strong during those horrible times of this illness. She never complained. One visit with her, I saw her fall to the floor while asking the doctors to take away Jasmines pain. On the floor for a moment and then she was up. Did it take this situation for me to see what an amazing daughter and mother she was? Perhaps. Some said, how does she do it? I say, for the love of her daughter. One day, Jasmine will be on staff at U of M. Sharing her success story, comforting a child and telling the Mom how her mom stood by her. I am so proud of you Jasmine and Amy.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 2:04 p.m.

It's umbilical cord blood, not 'chord,' which is a musical term. There are many typos in this article. Please proofread.

Tony Dearing

Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 5:46 p.m.

Thanks. That's been fixed.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 1:44 p.m.

way too go. never give up. do not know you but i am proud of you of what you have done and are doing. god bless.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 1:14 p.m.

Very inspirational. God bless and best wishes in all your future endeavors.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 11:34 a.m.

What an inspirational article to read ! --and what a nice change from all the sad &amp; sensational stories that we have been reading about our community lately! Let's all try to embrace the positive side of life this holiday season--- and always. Wishing us all health, happiness, peace, love, &amp; understanding !