20411 W. 12 Mile Rd.
Voices of Hope & Healing
Believe in Yourself, and You'll Come Through with Flying Colors!
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.
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