I am about to reach the two year anniversary from my stem cell transplant for my Acute Myeloid Leukemia treatment. This was my transplant at Duke that used my brother Kyle’s donated stem cells. That was a tough, tough three months’ worth of treatments. And my recovery took until just a few months ago for me to be about 95% back.
I realize how lucky I am. The odds for someone my age with this Leukemia are only a 25% chance of surviving for five years or more. That’s not very encouraging! However, my doctors have told me that the majority of patients whose Leukemia relapses usually happens in the first two years after the transplant. After that, the chances of the Leukemia coming back drop off dramatically. So I am not in the clear yet, but each month that goes by without a sign of relapse puts it further and further in the rear view mirror.
It is so crazy to think about what I have been through and survived. When I had my first stem cell transplant at Duke seventeen years ago using my own “cleaned up” stem cells for my Multiple Myeloma (bone marrow cancer) treatment, I was humbled by my experiences. I was very grateful for my recovery from those treatments and subsequent relatively good health. At the time I was told that I would be lucky to live for three years and yet I have beaten that prognosis by a mile. I think my doctors don’t quite know what to make of me.
But as the years went by and I continued to show no real signs of a relapse of that cancer, I grew complacent. I did not retain my realization of how lucky I was to still be alive and I lost a lot of my gratitude for what I had been given. Maybe that was just the result of living my life again. While I did appreciate the big moments with my family – my two son’s weddings and the birth of my first two grandchildren – I let myself get caught up with the grind of daily life. I let work issues start to run my life (again) and I eventually became a very stressed out, impatient and unhappy person. And as a result, I was not nearly as good of a person as I should have been.
Then I got hit by the Leukemia train. After several brushes with not surviving, I am now on the other side of that meat grinder! During the past two years of treatments and recovery I have regained my deep appreciation for the third chance I have been given. I fully realize that I am not out of the woods yet, including the high probability that my Multiple Myeloma will likely return at some point. But I am not wasting a moment of the gift I have been given.
I am now a much more patient and forgiving person. Someone is driving too slow ahead of me – who cares? Someone says something that I don’t agree with – so what? And the job I have now is the perfect place for me to be at this point in my life. I am helping raise donations to provide free transportation for people in need to reach their critical medical treatments. How totally great is that?
I can’t believe that it has taken two cancers for me to finally get my head screwed on straight. But what matters most is that I am here now and I will continue to appreciate every day of this gift of life I have been given and do as much as I can to help others for as long as I am here.