Courier staff writer
ALAMOSA COUNTY — Healthy habits are life saving.
Alamosa County resident Diana Rice had her blood drawn at the Monte Vista 9Health Fair in April just like she had every spring for the past 14 years. Her results came back in early May, and showed an irregularity in her serum iron test.
“We always go,” said Rice about her and her husband Kevin’s annual routine. “It is a good and inexpensive health check. Thank God I went and thank God I took the results to my doctor. That is what you do.”
After reviewing the results, Rice’s physician’s assistant immediately retested her blood, hoping the health fair results were simply in error. The second sample came back identical, confirming a symptom of leukemia, and additional tests revealed Rice was anemic and that she did, indeed, have immature blood cells resembling cancer.
In July, University of Colorado Anschutz Cancer Pavilion oncologists diagnosed Rice with Large Granular Lymphocytic (LGL) Leukemia after conducting a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy.
“The 9Health Fair saved my life,” said Rice, 53, an Arkansas native who has been in the Valley for 15 years and is the Sargent Elementary media specialist. “No doubt... I am a very lucky woman.”
9Health Fair is Colorado’s largest non-profit, volunteer-driven health fair program. A National Institutes of Health 9NEWS project enabled the 9Health Fair’s free and low-cost health screenings.
“When a test result is normal it not only rules out disease but it establishes a baseline for you,” said Monte Vista Health Outreach Team President Annette Lusero, who heads up the local health fair effort. “Sometimes test results will be abnormal before you have any symptoms. For those times when symptoms have developed, test results help confirm where the problems exists.”
Rice is now living with LGL Leukemia, a type of leukemia in which large T lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) that contain granules (small particles) are found in the blood, according to the National Cancer Institute. It is a chronic disease that might last for a long time and worsen.
“I will live to be an old lady,” Rice said. “It is treatable at home with chemo pills every Saturday. They say I’m going to get really tired, but I am not that way yet.”
The light, however, is a struggle. She now keeps the rooms in her house dark to protect her eyes, and will become ill if she goes out in the warm summer sun.
“The heat from the sun, even through clothes, can make you sicker than a dog, but I am healthy,” Rice said. “If it wasn’t for the health fair, I would still be plodding along. Probably for years and that cancer would have been growing and growing. The health fair saved my life.”
Lusero added, “Diana is why I do this. And the many others who I will never hear about, but have been helped by this wonderful program.”
Although she spent little of her summer vacation resting up for the school year, Rice wears no sign of fatigue, only a smile as she talks about heading back to the elementary library this fall.
“I will be there on that first day to hug those kids,” Rice said. “We will have fun.”