Haley Wilhour

Haley Wilhour is continuing to get stronger and enjoys sitting and relaxing in front of her house.

News Report Staff

Haley Wilhour is a planner.

In fact, she admits to being an extreme planner.

Whether its meals for the next week, getting her kids to their school events, attending activities at church, setting doctor’s appointments or even grocery shopping, everything was written down in her three planners and two calendars.

“Anyone that knows me, knows that I plan everything out,” Haley said. “I know what I’m going to do every day. I’ve always been that way. I just like to plan things.”

But in July 2015, Haley received some news she was not expecting.

No warning.

And no way to plan for it.

All she could hear were those words that so many have been told, but nobody wants to hear.

“You have cancer.”

“I wasn’t feeling very well, but I had just found out I was pregnant with our fifth child,” Haley recalled. “I hadn’t felt like this with the other kids, but every pregnancy is different.”

Haley, as planned, went to the doctor’s office for blood work. She didn’t expect those results to be abnormal – but they were. She was then sent to Dr. Philip Dy’s office where she had a couple more tests done.

“Initially, Dr. Dy wasn’t worried. My blood work wasn’t terrible,” Haley noted.

But they decided to do a bone marrow biopsy at 8 a.m. on a Friday morning. At 5 p.m. that same day, Haley’s phone rang and Dr. Dy was on the line. He told her the biopsy had revealed leukemia cells.

“I had been nervous all day long,” Haley said. “When would he call? What would he say? Then when he did call, I remember putting my hands on my face and thinking ‘What am I going to do?’ My kids need me. My husband needs me. I didn’t want any part of this. I was afraid of dying. There were a lot of thoughts that ran through my head.”

By the following Monday, Haley was a patient at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Her battle with acute myeloid leukemia had begun. Little did she know where that journey would lead.

Now, a little over two years later, Haley is still regaining her strength. She has faced some real challenges, including the death of her baby. But she also has a remarkable story to tell, including how her younger brother Austin was willing to be a donor when it became necessary for Haley to have a stem cell transplant.

This 29-year-old mother of four describes herself as determined. Haley needed all of her determination, plus her faith and the terrific support she received from family and friends to overcome her battle with cancer and to be able to declare today that she is cancer free.

“All glory goes to God,” Haley acknowledged. “His strength is what helped me get through all of this. I remember begging God to let it be a wrong diagnosis. But His plan is always better than my plan.”

Haley (Miller) was born and raised in Beecher City and graduated from high school there is 2006. She attended Lake Land College for one year and then married Justin Wilhour. Today they live and farm ground in rural Altamont.

The have four children – Onna, 9; Graidon, 8; Paylin, 6; and Brantly, 4.

After Haley arrived at Barnes Jewish Hospital, she learned there were three levels of leukemia – poor, medium and high risk. She was considered a medium risk.

Chemotherapy treatments began immediately. During the first induction round, she received treatment 24 hours a day for seven consecutive days. Haley admitted it was “pretty intense.”

After those seven days, she was given four weeks to recover before another bone marrow biopsy was done. But the result came back as still positive for cancer.

She then went through a second induction period, which revealed the cancer was in remission.

“But the doctors knew the cancer was aggressive,” Haley said. “They knew it could come back and come back quickly. They recommended I have a stem cell transplant.”

If that wasn’t enough, Haley also had to deal with the loss of her baby.

“I lost the baby just two weeks after they started the chemo,” she explained. “I knew there was only a 50-50 chance and I knew most women had their babies aborted in that situation. But I wanted to at least give my baby every chance possible.

“So I guess I was kind of prepared, but it still wasn’t easy,” Haley added. “When you’re so sick and so down, you always look for something positive to think about. The baby was that positive thing for me. It was quite a blow, but then I found something else to focus on – my four kids at home.”

Then, after the second chemo treatment, she came down with appendicitis.

“But when you’re white cell count is 0 and your platelets are at 0, they can’t do surgery,” Haley noted. “Plus, when you have appendicitis, you can’t eat. I didn’t eat food for nine days.”

But while all that was going on, the search for a donor had started. Both family members and potential matches from a donor list were evaluated. But Austin Miller, who is six years younger than his sister, was determined to be the best match.

“Austin and I did just about everything together when we were kids, from riding our 4-wheelers to chasing our grandpa’s cows,” Haley remembered. “And since there was six years difference in age, there were times he was really annoying. But I never questioned his love for me.”

Haley was able to return home for a short stay. Her best friend was getting married and Haley was a bridesmaid. But one week later, she was back in the hospital for another round of chemo and radiation.

At the same time, Austin was driving back and forth on a daily basis to receive shots that increased his cell production. Haley needed a minimum of 5 million cells. Austin produced 15 million.

“What Austin did for me was so great,” she said. “He ached everywhere and wasn’t able to work during that time.”

The transplant was done on November 5, 2015. It took six hours. Even though she was still a little weak and tired, Haley did make it home the day before Thanksgiving.

But that stay didn’t last long either.

She began having difficulty breathing and it didn’t improve. Finally, on December 6, she started running a fever that reached 104 and was taken to the emergency room in St. Louis that night.

A couple X-rays later, Haley was admitted to the hospital again. This time, she was diagnosed with a CMV virus that attacks the lungs.

“Eventually, I wasn’t able to breath on my own. I had to have oxygen,” she said. “I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t even brush my teeth. The doctors were afraid that movement of my arm could cause a stroke.”

Haley, who only weighs about 115 pounds normally, dropped to just 85 during that time. And when she did finally get home, she was still on oxygen and in a wheelchair.

Once again, that determination kicked in. She remembered playing volleyball, basketball and softball in school and tumbling for many years.

“I am very competitive. I don’t like losing at anything,” Haley admitted. “They told me I would have to be on oxygen for two to four months. I was off the oxygen in two weeks. I still had trouble getting around and walking, but I was determined to get back to normal.”

She administered her own IV – twice a day for two hours each day. It took several months to get the CMV virus under control, but Haley said she hasn’t tested positive for it in a year.

“Once I got that to a lower level, things started getting better,” Haley recalled. “But that virus scarred my lungs. They will never be back to where they once were.”

But she doesn’t dwell on that any longer. Her recovery process has been slow, but “I can walk and talk at the same time now,” she said with a laugh.

Haley is susceptible to pneumonia and battles Shingles and a variety of infections. Things like mowing the yard and working in the garden aren’t as easy as they used to be.

“It’s hard for me to stay healthy, but I’m so much better and getting stronger all the time,” she said. “I still have a ways to go and I still make a lot doctor visits, but life is definitely returning to normal. I can take the kids to practice or go to the store. I can just do more things now.”

Like so many cancer survivors, Haley’s support system was fantastic.

“My husband was my backbone,” she emphasized. “Anytime I was upset, Justin was right there smiling. When there were times I didn’t know if I could make it, he was there telling me I could. He was there with me every step of the way.”

Haley’s mom, Sandra Miller, and mother-in-law, Judy Wilhour, did many things to help, including taking care of the four kids.

“They had the most important job of all,” Haley noted. “They had my children. Without their help, Justin would have had to leave me to go home. I can’t imagine how I would have felt being there by myself.”

She was also grateful for everything her sisters-in-law did, from cleaning her house to bringing her food.

“I really got sick of hospital food,” Haley admitted. “But they brought me some homemade food, including cookies. Plus, they know how to have fun. They really helped lighten the mood at times.”

Haley doesn’t hesitate to share her story.

“I know there are others facing similar situations,” she said. “I just want to encourage them to stay hopeful. Maybe my story will prepare them for what they might experience.

“For whatever reason, this is what God had planned for me,” Haley added. “I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t really look too far into the future. Hopefully I’m healthy until I’m really old. But I’m just trusting in Him.

“I’m just living today and enjoying it. That’s something I can plan on.”