Health

Ashley Monroe Says a Rare Type of Cancer Is Making Her ‘Pretty Severely Anemic’

Country star Ashley Monroe has been diagnosed with a rare type of cancer affecting her blood cells and bone marrow.

The singer-songwriter revealed the news on Instagram, posting a carousel of photos taken since she found out she received her cancer diagnosis. The photos capture moments of Monroe with her supportive friends and family, for whom she is “overwhelmed with gratitude.” In the caption, Monroe gave details about how she found out she was sick, how the disease is affecting her life, and her treatment plan moving forward. 

The first sign of Monroe’s disease came several months ago when some routine blood work revealed she had anemia—a condition where the body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body, often causing symptoms like fatigue and weakness. “I was like, FINE, I’ll just double up on cheeseburger patties, take some extra vitamins and call it a day,” Monroe wrote. (One of the most common causes of anemia is a nutrient deficiency like iron, as well as vitamin B12 and folic acid, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, which can be treated with supplements and adding foods rich in those nutrients, like meat, to your diet.)

But after Monroe’s red blood cell count continued to fall (and further testing revealed that her levels of iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid were all normal), her doctor ordered further testing to find out the root cause of her low red blood cell count. “They did a bone marrow biopsy, (ouch), and VOILA.. a rare kind of blood c word called ‘Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia,’” Monore wrote. “It’s causing my body to be pretty severely anemic, and I feel it.”

Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia is a blood cell cancer and a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It impacts the body’s lymphatic system, which is a component of the immune system that includes the lymph nodes, thymus gland, and bone marrow, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). This type of cancer is, indeed, pretty rare with just 1,000 to 1,500 diagnoses in the U.S. every year, per the ACS. Cases of this type of cancer most commonly occur in women and older people, and doctors aren’t sure what causes it. 

The condition occurs when the bone marrow begins making an excessive amount of abnormal white blood cells, the Mayo Clinic explains. These abnormal white blood cells crowd out healthy blood cells (resulting in a low red blood cell count) and produce a protein that can build up in the blood, causing issues like poor circulation. 

Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia is slow-growing and can be asymptomatic for years, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. As in Monroe’s case, the signs are often first detected through a blood test. When symptoms do appear, they may include fever, weight loss, and night sweats. Anemia is very common in people with Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia, causing symptoms such as shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats, dizziness, lightheadedness, pale or yellowish skin, and cold hands and feet, per the Mayo Clinic

Monroe said she is undergoing chemotherapy, a treatment consisting of drugs that kill fast-growing cancer cells. Chemotherapy is one of the two main types of treatment for Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia, according to the ACS. (The other is immunotherapy, also called biological therapy, which consists of drugs that can help the body’s own immune system fight cancer). 



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