By Amy McSweeney - October 09, 2023
Stephanie Walker graduated from the University of South Florida in 2011 with a degree in environmental science. After graduation, she worked as a pharmacist for more than a decade.
In May 2022, the 36-year-old went to her doctor for her yearly physical. She had been experiencing lower back pain, fatigue and difficulty going up stairs, but at the time thought nothing of it. After several months of testing, Walker was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome and was referred to Moffitt Cancer Center for further evaluation. By then the disease had progressed into acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a form of blood cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, AML is one of the most common types of leukemia in adults. The disease is usually found in older people and is uncommon before age 45.
Walker began treatment immediately. She started with a 30-day inpatient chemotherapy regimen, followed by a second round of lower-dose chemotherapy. In March 2023, she suffered a relapse prompting more chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant. But 90 days later, the cancer returned.
Since being diagnosed, Walker’s life has changed dramatically. She hasn’t been able to work, and she has moved back in with her family for extra help with appointments.
“I have the most supportive family. They have been there through it all with me without hesitation,” Walker said.
On Sept. 23, the USF Bulls honored Walker for her strength and continued courage in her fight against cancer during the football game against Rice University at Raymond James Stadium. Athletic director Michael Kelly and mascot Rocky presented her with the game ball.
For others facing a cancer diagnosis, Walker suggests taking it all in stride and recommends finding a hobby to serve as a distraction.
“Try to be flexible, things will randomly come up,” Walker said. “Try to just go with it and know you are in good hands.”