Milwaukee woman survives rare blood cancer, deemed 'The Queen of Froedtert'

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- For the first time, a Milwaukee woman who survived a rare type of blood cancer is telling her story on camera. She spent months at Froedtert Hospital fighting for her life. 

In 2014, Elizabeth McCullar felt knots on the back of her head. She went to the ER and ultimately would spend the next 30 days fighting for her life. She was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). It's a very rare and dangerous type of blood cancer and is treated by specialists at Froedtert Hospital/MCW. 

CBS 58 spoke with Dr. Ehab Atallah, Froedtert/MCW leukemia specialist who treated Elizabeth. 

"Acute Myeloid Leukemia is a little less than 20-thousand patients diagnosed each year." 

Elizabeth needed a bone marrow transplant, but had difficulty finding one. 

"Minorities are less likely to find a donor in terms of numbers and how many donors are in the bank." 

Froedtert Hospital says a lot of people don't know that minorities have a significantly lower chance of getting a transplant donor. Elizabeth's brother was amazingly a match, but unfortunately died six months after her diagnosis. She lost all hope. A potent cocktail of chemo helped doctors keep the cancer at bay for a year.

"I'm lying there, I don't have a match and Dr. A assured me the leukemia would come back in a year. And a year later the leukemia did come back." 

At this point, Elizabeth had a 5% chance of survival. Doctors prepared her for the worst. 

"We're going to make you comfortable because the leukemia have come back and it's in 60% of your body. The nurses was crying because we had bonded I had been there so long." 

The next morning, Dr. Atallah burst into her room and explained that he wanted to try just one more round of a new chemotherapy, just to help extend her life. That round that she received on Dec. 7, 2015, didn’t just extend her life – it cured her leukemia.

"Looking back and thinking oh my goodness, we almost didn’t do that last cycle of chemotherapy and that last regimen, and look where we are right now." 

Dr. Atallah calls her a literal walking miracle. The five-year survival rate for people over 20 with AML is 26%. 

"I've been through a hurricane but I am here today to say I'm living the proof, I'm living, dreams do come true, your wishes, stay strong. I just want to be a light and shine in other people's lives. I am in seven years remission." 

McCullar says she is writing a book about her journey. She hopes to spread positivity to others facing leukemia. 

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