Joan Luna Zayas diagnosed at 52

I have always made my health a priority, keeping my annual physicals and screenings. When I had to see a new primary care doctor because of my insurance coverage, I quickly realized that he wasn’t giving me the attention that I deserved as a patient. My health concerns were dismissed, and after trying unsuccessfully to self-advocate, I asked to switch to a different doctor. That decision saved my life.

Self-advocacy, changing my primary care doctor, and sharing my symptoms saved my life.

When I went for my first yearly exam with my new doctor, routine blood work showed that my white blood cell count was high, and I was immediately sent to a hematologist for additional blood work and then, a bone marrow biopsy. In a very short period of time, I was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) and started treatment. 

A few months after beginning my CML treatment, I began experiencing bruising and hot flashes. Initially, I didn’t think these were cancer symptoms. I attributed the hot flashes to age and menopause, but I still communicated with my doctors. Blood work revealed that I now had acute leukemia, and I was immediately sent to start chemotherapy.

What followed was a long (and international) search for a bone marrow donor. I needed a transplant and my family members were not matches. After three failed attempts, my team found a donor in Argentina. It has now been 7 years since my bone marrow transplant. 

Self-advocacy, changing my primary care doctor, and sharing my symptoms saved my life. I am incredibly blessed to have my faith and a community of family, friends and fellow survivors who constantly lift me up and have pulled me through. I encourage everyone to always get yearly exams, to listen to your body, and change your doctor if you are not happy. You are your own best advocate.


  • routine blood work showed a high white cell count
  • bruising
  • hot flashes