Rachel Yarborough’s life has been saved several times over by strangers — everyday people who donated blood, umbilical cords and plasma.
Without those precious gifts, Yarborough may have succumbed to one of two types of cancer she has fought since the spring of 2018.
“I’ve been given the time I have by people who will never know the impact their generosity has had on my life,” says Yarborough, former Waveland city attorney, wife to Gary and mother of four children.
The Bay Saint Louis resident’s ordeal began when she was expecting her youngest child, Beau Emy. Yarborough’s pregnancy progressed normally for the first 34 weeks, then she was rushed to the hospital when her blood pressure spiked. Doctors assumed it was preeclampsia, a dangerous pregnancy complication, and Beau Emy was delivered via emergency cesarean section.
After the delivery, Yarborough hemorrhaged and underwent an emergency hysterectomy. Her daughter beat her home from the hospital, and after discharge, doctors continued to monitor Yarborough’s blood pressure problem — which was managed, but not resolved.
Around that time, she went in for a seemingly routine gallbladder ultrasound, due to some reflux she was experiencing. Rather than finding a gallbladder issue, the ultrasound revealed a tumor that had clotted off of her inferior vena cava, grown to fill her liver and extended to outside her right atrium.
Upon referral to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Yarborough was diagnosed with a stage four leiomyosarcoma.
“I was shocked and emotional, but I knew something was wrong during the ultrasound when the radiologist took numerous photographs of my abdomen during the exam,” she says. “I told my husband when we left the hospital that something was wrong.”
Previously, she had no reason to think anything was amiss, as she had no symptoms or pre-existing health issues.
“I would get pains in my abdomen when working out or after meals, but I associated it with lactose issues,” she says. “I had no idea that it was a symptom of cancer.”
Although not curable, Yarborough’s condition is treatable with chemotherapy. When her blood cell counts registered low earlier this year, she hadn’t had chemo in 10 months and knew the treatment couldn’t be the cause.
After her counts didn’t increase after a week or so in the hospital, Yarborough became worried that something else was at fault. Biopsies confirmed a diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome, aka, preleukemia.
“We decided to undergo a stem cell transplant,” she says, “which is the only possible cure for the disease.”
She had the procedure in June and lived in a Houston apartment for months afterward, going to clinic every day at MD Anderson. Due to the hospital’s COVID-19 visitation restrictions, only her husband could accompany Yarborough through the transplant process.
“I spent 50 days in the hospital with my husband, away from my children and family without physical visitation,” she says. “The hardest part of the process was being separated from my children for so long.”
So far, everything has gone to plan. Yarborough likely will be on low-dose chemotherapy for a while to prevent a relapse and will return to Houston periodically for sarcoma monitoring.
The future is uncertain, so Yarborough strives to be positive, focus on what’s in front of her and make everything as normal as possible for her family.
“We know we are blessed, no matter what we are going through,” she says, “and we make sure to enjoy each day.