|Sisters share a battle against leukemia
by Renee Dudley
The Post and Courier
Both Chester natives want to become nurses. They love texting their
friends, painting their nails bright colors and checking the social
networking site Facebook “like, all the time,” said 22-year-old JaNell
as 19-year-old Juleesa nodded in agreement.
(left) and her father, Ricky, keep the atmosphere light during a visit
with Juleesa Pickett at MUSC. The Pickett sisters were diagnosed with
leukemia within two months of each other. photo by Post and Courier
One of their shared connections, though, is far more grave. Both suffer
from leukemia, having been diagnosed within months of each other last
spring. Juleesa’s oncologist at the Medical University of South
Carolina called the dual diagnoses a coincidence “unheard of in the
Juleesa Pickett, a former high school cheerleader, thought she might
have had a hamstring pull as her senior year drew to a close.
When the athletic high school senior grew progressively weaker, doctors
ordered blood tests. The results confirmed that Juleesa was in the
early stages of lupus and was suffering from an aggressive form of
leukemia. She was in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant to
Tests run in May showed that JaNell was a perfect match. They also
revealed news that the family never could have expected to receive on
the heels of Juleesa’s diagnosis: JaNell too had leukemia. Hers, caught
in an early stage, was less severe.
The girls’ father, Ricky Pickett, who had recently lost his job when
his employer went out of business, had been at a friend’s funeral when
JaNell left him a message to call her back immediately.
Pickett remembers hearing his daughter’s news.
“I couldn’t do nothing but cry and hit my hand on the bed,” he said.
The doting father sleeps on a hospital bed beside Juleesa in her
room—specially filtered to help prevent infection—at MUSC.
He trades weekly rotations there with the girls’ mother, Lavonne
Robertson, so Juleesa is never alone. “We keep God first. We ask people
to pray for us.”
Pickett said he considers even his sudden unemployment to have been a
blessing in disguise. “It’s enabled me to be here for my daughters,” he
Juleesa’s doctor, Michelle Hudspeth, identified a blood donor for her
patient this summer, a task she said was challenging because matches
generally fall along ethnic lines. The national marrow register reveals
a dearth of African-American donors, Hudspeth said.
Juleesa was admitted for treatment—including the blood transplant,
radiation and chemotherapy — last month at MUSC Children’s Hospital,
where she will remain until early September.
JaNell, a rising senior at Francis Marion University whose leukemia is
less aggressive and is treated by oral medication, stays by her
sister’s side as much as possible.
Barring complications, Juleesa will move into an apartment at the
Ronald McDonald House in early fall. Hudspeth said Juleesa will stay
there for 100 days so she can get to the hospital for appointments
easily instead of trekking more than two hours from Chester.
After that, Juleesa wants to begin her studies to become a pediatric
nurse. She will, after all, have a most sympathetic ear.
“It’s something I could do for the rest of my life,” she said.
note: The article ran in the Aug. 14 issue of The Post and Courier and
is reprinted with permission.
Friday, Aug. 27, 2010