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Voices of Hope & Healing
for Bone Marrow/Stem Cell Transplant

Believe in Yourself, and You'll Come Through with Flying Colors!
by Sandy Weiss

Though 1985 was many years ago, the memories of being diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia and undergoing a bone marrow transplant in December of that year remain vivid in my mind. I was employed as a medical laboratory technologist in a clinical lab and had been feeling ill over the span of eight months that year. I couldn't seem to get over the fatigue, fevers, bone and joint pain, bruising, and feeling that "something just didn't feel right." I took it upon myself to order some lab tests and learned that I had leukemia. What a shock! Needless to say I was devastated. I thought that at 41 years old, my life was over as I had never heard of anyone surviving the disease. I didn't know who would take care of my daughter, not yet 2 and my son, 12.

Upon seeing an oncologist I learned there were two options: (1) an average survival time of 3 to 5 years with oral chemotherapy (Gleevec was not available then) or (2) a bone marrow transplant if I had a donor. As allogeneic transplants were still in their infancy, and a very risky procedure, it would necessitate my traveling 2000 miles to Seattle, WA for treatment. My sister was found to be a perfect match for a transplant, and in November 1985 I flew to Seattle for the biggest challenge of my life.

I was given a 50-55% chance of survival 5 years post-transplant after many tests were run. I really didn't like those numbers and was determined to outdo them. I had too much to live for. I knew it would take a great deal of will and fortitude to get through the upcoming days, and I was going to try to keep everything as close to "normal" as possible. Prior to the transplant I was treated with high dose chemotherapy and total body irradiation. Everyday after the transplant I made it a point to try and eat a little something, walk 1-2 miles in the halls, and make sure that all the directions from the medical staff were followed to a "T". As I was at a research facility, I volunteered to be a participant in many research studies in the hopes that future patients would benefit from the results. I know that new therapies and treatments are now available for some of the complications and setbacks that many of us "old-timers" had to endure because of these studies.

I spent 4 months in Seattle and was allowed to go home 100 days post transplant, just in time for my daughter's 2nd birthday. What a great birthday present! I was so happy to be back with my family again. I had some setbacks with chronic Graft Versus Host Disease and shingles those following months, and they were difficult ones for me. After a period of recuperation, things resolved themselves, and I was truly on the mend.

As of this writing I am 24 years post transplant, disease and medication free and in very good health. I'm so thankful for having been given a second chance at life and don't take anything for granted, especially my health. I'm currently working full time, doing volunteer work, exercising on a regular basis, traveling when able, and being the grandmother of two. Last year at age 63, I took part in a marathon and walked/ran 13.1 miles for the Leukemia & Lymphoma society. It was awesome!

Facing a BMT can seem overwhelming. My only advice is to take one day at a time. You'll be amazed at how things will fall into place. Your family, friends, and strangers will surprise you with their help. More importantly, believe in yourself. I hung a poster over my bed while in the hospital. It had a picture of a little bird flying through a rainbow and it said, "Believe in Yourself and You'll Come Through With Flying Colors."

Wishing all of you success.

Quilt Image

 

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