Joining our January meeting via Webex from Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, Foundation Outreach Chair Delaine Mathieu shared her personal mission and inspiration for 2024: her daughter Layla’s battle with leukemia.
What started as a doctor’s visit for shoulder pain and inflamed lymph nodes became something life-changing for 19-year-old Layla Mathieu and her mother Delaine.
Layla was diagnosed in January 2023 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer that progresses rapidly and affects mainly children. The diagnosis was just the first in a series of shocks for the family.
As her treatment began, Layla’s platelet levels were at an all-time low, and her white blood cell count had plummeted. Doctors had to aggressively fight the cancer with some of the strongest chemotherapy available, termed “the red devil” by medical staff. The chemotherapy killed both good and bad cells, and was so intense, it sent Layla straight to the ICU.
“She looked drained. Like as pale as pale could be,” Delaine remembers. Layla needed four blood transfusions within a matter of hours.
Despite realizing a battle lay ahead, Delaine considered her daughter blessed to be accepted as a patient by a renowned oncologist who was head of the department of leukemia at MD Anderson.
During an early visit, Delaine told him, “You know, ironically, I’m on the board for The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center Foundation and we do a lot of work to raise awareness about the need for blood,” including for cancer patients.
He looked at her and responded, “It’s not enough. You’re not doing enough.”
Delaine saw that for herself as Layla required multiple transfusions of blood and platelets over the course of several weeks, sometimes waiting hours for blood to be available. She realized that across the country, the need for blood was outpacing the available supply. Fortunately, Layla’s doctors were able to get her leukemia into remission fairly quickly.
A year after her diagnosis, Layla has overcome her cancer. She is now doing follow-up treatment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston every three months to ensure she stays healthy.
Prior to her diagnosis, Layla was all about helping children in unique ways, and donating blood was one of those ways. Her younger sister Malea, having seen firsthand the need for blood, has increased her own outreach efforts, encouraging blood drives at her high school.
“She’s very cognizant we almost lost her (Layla), and she realizes the power she has” Delaine says about Malea’s contributions. “She’s an advocate and she’s learned a lot.”
Delaine accepted the role as outreach chair last year because she was passionate about raising awareness. But inspired by Layla’s journey – and her doctor’s challenge to do more – she’s driven to collaborate on campaigns to get more people to donor centers and as much blood collected as possible.
“It became my life’s mission. Nothing else mattered. It’s saving kids like Layla and Amy (Morkovsky) I was passionate about,” Delaine said. “I’m excited about our mission this year with the Red & White Ball to go after the younger generation. They are the key to our future.”
Thinking back to the first time she saw the familiar name on one of Layla’s units of blood, Delaine said, “I cried when I saw a unit from South Texas Blood & Tissue on Layla’s transfusion pole.”
She took a photo, and shared on social media with the message, “Just so you know, your blood is going into my daughter today. I don’t know who you are, but you are saving her life. Thank you.”