It was just two years ago I got the dreaded phone call from my oncologist. I had been fighting Multiple Myeloma (bone marrow cancer) for the previous fifteen years and I had suddenly started seeing bruises all over my chest and arms. After a couple weeks of blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy – where they “drill” into your hip and pull out a sample of your bone marrow for the lab to run tests on – my oncologist called to tell me I had Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
My brain had a hard time registering this info. I knew Leukemia was pretty serious stuff, but why would I have it? It turned out the drug I had been taking over the past several years to fight off my Multiple Myeloma and very much keep me alive had likely caused my Leukemia. My oncologist informed me I needed to go into the hospital the next day, where I would be for a month starting some heavy duty chemo treatments. I said “come on, really?” I needed to go into the hospital for the entire month of December? Then he informed me that if I didn’t I would be dead in two weeks. Well, guess who went into the hospital the next day? This guy!
That was the start of a long treatment process that included more stays in hospitals, more heavy chemo and eventually a stem cell transplant at Duke using one of my brother’s donated stem cells. Love that Kyle!! At the time I was told I had a fifty-fifty chance of surviving the next six months of treatments. Hell, that’s a flip-of-the-coin. But I told myself I could do it and I chose to be in the positive side of the fifty percent. I was also very lucky to have such a great oncologist in Norfolk (Dr. Dean McGaughey really is the best!), all of the terrific doctors and nurses at Duke and most importantly the bottomless love and support from my wife, Nancy, my entire family and all my friends.
It was a tough fight, but I made it. Several months ago I heard about someone dying from Leukemia and I got thinking that you never hear of someone living after Leukemia. So I GTS (Googled that shit) and found out only twenty-five percent of people my age and up who have Acute Myeloid Leukemia survive for five years or more. When I saw my doctors at Duke I asked them if this was true. They told me sheepishly “yes, this is mostly true but we don’t talk about it much.” Well I would think not!
But they told me I was on the younger end of the spectrum of people with this kind of Leukemia, so that was in my favor. They also told me the majority of people who relapse usually do so within two years of their treatments. Again, I chose to believe I would be in the twenty-five percent and here I am now three months shy of my two year anniversary of my stem cell transplant and doing great!! Also, with the exciting new treatments being tested, especially the promising new CAR-T Cell therapy treatments there is starting to be a real chance for a cure.
As you can tell I am a firm believer in the “you make your own luck” theory, which is what I mean by “I choose” how things are going to turn out. While I also know there is a lot more than that going on, like great doctors and a loving, supportive family, it all starts with you and your attitude. Even if things don’t work out, at least you know you went down swinging. As my Dad once told me “never give them a standing target!” Thanks, Dad!