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Beating the odds: Survivor shares inspirational story

Profile image for By Karina Ramírez / Staff Writer
By Karina Ramírez / Staff Writer

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS — When Chad Hill started cancer treatments in 2005, his doctor said he likely would be unable to father a child.

In February 2005, Hill was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), a blood cancer. He was physically active, played sports and had no family history of the disease that primarily affects men in their 60s.

One month after his diagnosis, he was asked to join a clinical study at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center for a developmental drug named Gleevec.

For the next two years, Hill went to Houston every three months for tests and treatments and to make sure he was abiding by the requirements of the study.

Hill said his doctors know of only two children born after one of the parents had taken Gleevec. But Hill accepted the treatment and was declared cancer-free in January 2010.

In March 2010, Chad and Amy Hill celebrated the birth of their son, Caleb.

“He is the best thing — my greatest accomplishment,” Hill said.

Now 37, Hill said he considers himself blessed.

“If we were to place all the different types of leukemia on the table, I got the best one,” he said. “Things could have been so much different. It changed my life. I don’t stress out about anything.”

Hill found out he had leukemia during a routine medical exam. He felt pain in his thigh, he said, but it wasn’t severe and he assumed it was some sort of injury. He was playing sports and trying to lose weight.

At the time of his diagnosis, Hill had a white blood cell count of 275,000, and 4,000 to 11,000 is considered the normal range. As a result, his spleen became enlarged and was pressing on his stomach, not allowing it to expand when he ate.

“It was my built-in lap band,” Hill said. “Needless to say, I lost a lot of weight.”

Hill lost 20 pounds in three months, changed his habits and still continues to take the “miracle drug” every day because there is no cure for CML and he has a very small number of cancer cells in his blood.

Without the medication, he would have needed a bone marrow transplant. Hill said his doctors told him at the time that he had a 60 percent to 80 percent chance of finding a match.

Gleevec was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May 2001 to treat patients with advanced Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia, a blood and bone marrow disease linked to a genetic abnormality, according to a news release.

In January, the FDA granted Gleevec regular approval for use in adult patients following surgical removal of CD117-positive gastrointestinal stromal tumors.

Since his diagnosis, Hill and his wife have become active in the North Texas chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which helps patients with blood cancers. Hill and his wife have raised more than $20,000 through the chapter’s Light The Night Walk and its Team in Training program.

Sue Warriner, a Team in Training running coach, said her group trains every Saturday to prepare for marathons that raise funds for the society. She met Hill about a year ago and has seen him progress.

“Last year, he was injured a lot more. The day of the race, he was struggling,” Warriner said. “This season he is going great. If he is tired, he won’t tell us unless he has an injury. He is a strong individual.”

Even with fatigue, cramps in his hands and feet, swollen legs and eyes — some side effects of the medication — Hill is preparing for his second half-marathon next month in Fort Worth. After seeing many children and seniors affected by the disease at MD Anderson, Hill wanted to run in the event to help raise funds for leukemia research.

“I could not run a half-mile without feeling like my heart was coming out of my chest,” Hill said about his marathon run last year. “I did half a marathon and ran 13.2 miles. I say 13 miles for the kids and .2 for me.”

Representing the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society on Sept. 11, Hill shared his story and accepted a proclamation from the Denton City Council, which declared the month of September to be Blood Cancer Awareness Month.

More than 1 million Americans are living with a form of blood cancer. In 2011, more than 13,000 people were diagnosed with blood cancer in Texas.

“The money that was raised through leukemia developed the drug that helped save my life,” Hill told the council. “I am especially grateful for that.”

KARINA RAMÍREZ can be reached at 940-566-6878. Her e-mail address is .



•  What: 2012 Light The Night Walk, Fort Worth

•  When: Sunday, Oct. 21

•  For more information:



People who have chronic lymphocytic leukemia may at first have no symptoms. Often, patients learn they have CLL after a routine physical exam or blood test. Signs and symptoms tend to develop gradually. Early in the course, the disease often has little effect on a person’s well-being.

When symptoms do appear, they’re common to less serious illnesses. However, people with the following symptoms should see their doctor:

•  fatigue or lack of energy

•  shortness of breath during normal physical activity

•  enlarged lymph nodes

•  discomfort or a “dragging” feeling on the upper left side of the stomach (caused by an enlarged spleen)

•  frequent infections

•  unexplained weight loss

SOURCE: Leukemia & Lymphoma Society