Max Burgos is an outgoing 23-year-old tattoo artist from Camden with adult acute myeloid leukemia. The good news is that his cancer has a cure rate of about 90 percent. The bad news is that his chemotherapy requires spending up to a month as an inpatient.
In the past, Max felt restless and bored during his hospital stays and left too soon to maintain his treatment schedule – putting his life at risk. That is, until his Cooper nurses discovered a unique way to encourage Max to remain in the hospital until he was medically ready to go home.
“I know patients who have succumbed to their cancer because they didn’t keep up with their treatments,” said one of Max’s nurses Linda Barrolin, R.N. “We needed to keep Max focused and motivated here in the hospital to see this through.” So, Linda bought him a canvas, oil paints and a palette. Another nurse found an easel. They took the supplies to his room and told him they would love to have new artwork to frame and hang throughout their hospital unit.
Max eagerly agreed and started painting right away. As his treatment progressed, Max’s nurses became his support system. They often visited him, viewed his work and offered encouragement. Max was doing something he loved, and it showed in his more positive attitude.
Today he’s doing very well. After finishing that round of treatment, his cancer is in remission.
“We’ve all saw a tremendous change in him. He’s a very talented young man, and this meant a lot to him,” she said. “Shopping for the paint supplies took 20 minutes out of my life, but I think it saved his.”
What is leukemia?
Leukemia is a type of cancer that starts in the bone marrow – the soft, inner part of the bones. It moves quickly into the blood, and then can spread to other parts of the body such as the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, central nervous system and other organs. Leukemia affects adults and children and is a complex disease with many types and subtypes. The kind of treatment and prognosis for each patient vary greatly according to the exact type and other individual factors.
Adult acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a cancer that usually progresses quickly if untreated. AML is the most common type of acute leukemia in adults.
Normally, the bone marrow produces stem cells that develop into mature blood cells. The three types of mature blood cells are:
- Red blood cells that carry oxygen and other materials to bodily tissues.
- White blood cells that fight infection and disease.
- Platelets that help prevent bleeding by causing blood clots.
In AML, the stem cells usually develop into a type of immature white blood cell called myeloblasts. The myeloblasts in AML are abnormal and do not mature into healthy white blood cells. Sometimes too many stem cells develop into abnormal red blood cells or platelets. These abnormal white blood cells, red blood cells or platelets are also called leukemia cells, or blasts. Leukemia cells are unable to do their usual work and can build up in the bone marrow and blood so healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets have less room. When this happens, infection, anemia or easy bleeding may occur. The leukemia cells can spread outside the blood to other parts of the body, including the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), skin and gums.