Casey LeBlanc, cancer survivor, nominated Woman of the Year

Jan 9, 2020 by

Published January 10, 2020

MELROSE — Melrose resident Casey LeBlanc had every reason to celebrate the New Year when the calendar page turned to 2020.

LeBlanc recently learned that the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society nominated her to become 2020 Woman of the Year.

The philanthropic competition supports blood cancer research among a group of motivated and dedicated people in communities throughout the country. A Man of the Year is also named at the close of the competition. The man and woman who have raised the most funds during a 10-week campaign in their own communities are then recognized as the national man and woman of the year.

“It is such an honor for me to accept this nomination,” said LeBlanc.

It appears to be well deserved. When she was only five years old, LeBlanc was diagnosed with leukemia and at age nine received an unrelated match for a bone marrow transplant. She is now 34 years old and disease free.

During the summer in her youth, she went to Camp Carole in Meredith, N.H., and her attendance became an annual ritual. She started as a camper and later graduated to camp counselor. Her friend Anthony Lallis was also a counselor at Camp Carole, and it was he who nominated LeBlanc for Woman of the Year.

“Anthony nominating me was a blessing,” she said. “I believe he wanted the same blessing and experience for me.”

Beginning a medical journey

LeBlanc’s medical journey began when, at age five, she spiked a fever of 104 degrees. Following a diagnosis of chicken pox, doctors determined that the pox on her skin did not have a normal appearance.

Her parents brought her to a doctor in Melrose who had been affiliated with the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, and after consults with physicians there in June 1991, she was found to have anemia, mild thrombocytopenia and neutropenia and bone marrow showing consistent changes with a pre-leukemic syndrome.

By December that same year, she was diagnosed with full-blown Acute Myelocytic Leukemia (AML). To fight the disease, LeBlanc underwent chemotherapy, blood and platelet transfusions and paid weekly visits to the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic at the Floating Hospital.

LeBlanc’s body did not respond well to chemotherapy. She endured her illness for “a long time” and was hospitalized often, requiring that she be in isolation.

“My bone marrow was no longer reacting to the platelet transfusion from when I was diagnosed in June 1991,” she said.

A year later, in July 1992, Dr. Lawrence C. Wolfe and Dr. Cathy G. Rosenfield, both from the Floating Hospital, marked her as a potential bone marrow transplant candidate with her mother as a possible donor, but it turned out that her mother was a mismatch. LeBlanc had been placed on the National Donor Registry by the Dana-Farber Cancer Center, but there were no matches.

Fortunately, LeBlanc went into remission, and then on her seventh birthday, she received a 10-speed bicycle. On that special day, she recalls riding around the block on her new bike and taking a spill that left a scrape on her leg. By the end of the day, a big bruise had developed, one of the signs of a relapse. Indeed, doctors told her parents that the cancer was back. Eighteen months later, she underwent a Matched Unrelated Donor (MUD) transplantation in Kentucky. She is now cancer free.

Overwhelming gratitude

The young girl had so many doctors and nurses, it was hard for her to keep count, though they all had a big impact on her life.

LeBlanc credits southern hospitality as a major reason for her survival. When she was being treated at the University of Kentucky’s Chandler Medical Center under the care of Dr. Edward Harder, division of Hematology/Oncology Department, she can recall going with her family to her doctor’s home for dinner.

“Some doctors, like Dr. Harder, treated me as if I were their own family member struggling with an illness,” she noted. “One doctor in Kentucky would drive my mom and me back and forth to the airport.”

She is also grateful for her primary care doctor at Tufts Medical Center, calling her a Godsend.

“I have a lot of respect for Dr. Rosenfield. She could have given up but never did,” LeBlanc said. “Dr. Rosenfield worked with a team of doctors to make this miracle happen.”

Along the way, the young woman made friends with nurses who would watch movies with her, make popcorn or just visit her after their shifts to keep her company when her parents had to work.

“It wasn’t always rainbows, but I was a tough cookie and I’m grateful for all the doctors and nurses who came into my life,” she said.

Two people she is especially thankful for are Carol Luccio Farwell and Jody Nelson from the Child Life Care Hematology Clinic at Tufts. “When I left for Kentucky, they saw me off. They change lives by providing games, arts and crafts and movies. They dedicate their time to make sure patients are occupied during clinic visits.”

Judy Noakes was LeBlanc’s unrelated donor from Albion, Mich., and she was a 100 percent match for LeBlanc.

“She was the angel who saved my life,” LeBlanc commented. “And her husband Devere was the sweetest guy you could ever meet.”

The couple met with LeBlanc and her family several times before the transplant took place.

“Because of Judy Noakes, I am here to share my story,” she said. In 2013, Noakes died from complications of pancreatic cancer. Her husband died four years later, also of cancer.

Several times LeBlanc’s doctors asked her parents if they could test medicines that had yet to be tried on anyone, but they declined.

“My parents were absolutely against any testing of medicines, and I’m very thankful for that,” she said.

Meeting the Mayor

Recently, LeBlanc met with Melrose Mayor Paul Brodeur, and she found him both welcoming and supportive.

“Mayor Brodeur gave me good ideas and contacts,” she said. “He suggested that I contact the Melrose Chamber of Commerce and Melrose Weekly News, and he gave me a good idea for fundraising at the Melrose VFW function hall. Our Mayor is great and would like to stay informed about the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.”

LeBlanc said she showed Mayor Brodeur a newspaper article from years ago when the town was supporting her in finding a bone marrow donor.

“He was so excited, and we laminated the newspaper article,” she noted.

Giving back

LeBlanc said she has always helped her family and has donated to the Salvation Army and homeless causes. She has also volunteered her time at Camp Sunshine in Casco, Maine, but over the past two years she has taken time to discover herself.

“In the last few months, I’ve come to realize that I have an amazing family, friends and coworkers who not only support me but believe in me,” she said.

In mid-December, LeBlanc held an “ugly sweater” party and donated unwrapped gifts to the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic at Tufts where her medical journey began.

“I am so lucky to have been nominated for Woman of the Year because this is a real eye opener about life and being involved to make a difference with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.”

LeBlanc said she hopes her story will change someone’s life.

“I know there’s a little girl out there battling cancer, and I want to give her hope and be there for her,” she commented.

Currently, her goal is to raise $50,000 with the help of her team Stand By Me. Fundraising efforts will begin on Friday, March 6 and end with a big gala on Friday, May 15.

“I’d like to get the City of Melrose to help raise funds and awareness for the next child diagnosed with cancer and stand by to give them hope and to not be afraid because we are right by his or her side,” she said.

Growing, living, succeeding

The Bellevue Avenue resident began her life in Melrose but when she was a young child, she moved to Malden with her family and graduated from Malden High School in 2003. She then graduated from Rivier College in Nashua, N.H. in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in business management. She later earned her master’s degree in business administration.

Today, she shares her home with her Pomeranian Prince William and Maltese Ben.

“I like to tell people I have two fur babies,” she laughed. “I’ve had many tough breaks in life, but each experience has helped me grow into a proud individual.”

As a real estate broker, LeBlanc has “found her home” at Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty in Cambridge.

“I absolutely love this office,” she said. “The company is amazing, and they recently helped me close on two back-to-back sales. Life is good. I’m so blessed to be able to enjoy it.”

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