Tara Branham: I have leukemia. Other than that, I'm fine.
Like so many other young women, Tara Branham arrived in Los Angeles with dreams of becoming an actress — but her life soon changed in ways she'd never imagined.
Within three months of beginning classes at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, the 29-year-old Michigan native began feeling tired. Really tired. To her shock, her physician diagnosed her with acute myelogenic leukemia, a cancer involving white blood cells.
When Branham learned that a hematopoietic cell transplant offered her the best chance for survival, a relative and oncologist recommended City of Hope.
Branham was admitted to City of Hope for a transplant shortly after her 30th birthday. Her brother, Cheyne, one of two siblings who was a match for her tissue type, donated his bone marrow to give her a chance at life. It worked.
While her transplant was a success, Branham acknowledges residual physical challenges that she says have simply served to strengthen her spirit. Yes, she said, she lost her hair. She has had one hip replaced, and walking for an extended time is tough. The dream Branham once had to become a commercially successful actress no longer holds the same enchantment. Her life is different, but the changes, she insists, have brought their own reward. She lives with greater awareness and compassion and has discovered a new creative force within her, becoming a prolific writer.
She once believed she would never again venture onto a stage as an actress, but she has written a one-woman show and is looking forward to performing it. In a nod to the optimism and often-repeated words of her City of Hope physician, Anthony Stein, M.D., she titled the work, "Other Than That, I'm Fine."
It is her story of illness, challenges, recovery and discovery. It is a story about life.
"It isn't a miracle that I survived," Branham said. "The miracle is that there are people on earth who want others to live through this — that there are scientific minds that are driven to do that."