Patrice Hunter is a transplant nurse at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
I have worked with the bone marrow transplant (BMT) population for nearly six years now. Prior to working with BMT patients, I could have never appreciated all that a bone marrow transplant entails. Caring for a BMT patient is all about attention to detail. I believe the BMT nursing practice reflects that detail. The role of the nurse as part of the BMT team is to care for the complex needs of BMT patients, including the conditioning period prior to the transplant and the recovery phases following transplant. Nurses are strong advocates and provide a wealth of support that is focused on the transplant patient and family.
Bone marrow transplant patients amaze me every day and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to care for them. Witnessing their courage, strength, and resilience through the hardships of transplant keeps me dedicated to my job. Undergoing a bone marrow transplant can be difficult and stressful. However, the right amount of support can make all the difference to patients and families alike. I have had the privilege of witnessing and remain grateful to The Bone Marrow Foundation for the amazing services and programs available. The Foundation provides a source of hope to patients and families through financial, educational, and emotional support as they battle their diagnosis.
My name is Jennifer Warden, and my cancer story really begins with my little brother Josh, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 1981. He was very ill upon diagnosis, slow to achieve remission and relapsed within months. His only hope was a relatively new procedure called a bone marrow transplant. Much testing began (it wasn’t as easy back then) and I was a match. In the summer of 1982, he entered a small five-bed unit for treatment and to receive my marrow. Five weeks into the process he acquired an infection, which took his life. Our sweet Josh was gone. The grief was unbearable, but a few weeks later I went off to begin college with a broken heart.
My junior year, I felt a lump on my neck which was dismissed by our family doctor as a “viral thing” that should work itself out. Two months later this lump was now quite large, so I took myself to The Ohio State University emergency room where they wasted no time determining that it was probably Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
I left Ohio State to come home and receive treatment (I could not conceive of getting chemo and living in a dorm) at The Cleveland Clinic. I completed my treatmentin ten months with few setbacks and was encouraged by my good prognosis. I gathered myself and went about building a life.
Six years of remission later, I relapsed (a statistical unlikelihood). It turns out my only shot for a cure was…you guessed it, a bone marrow transplant! Because my disease was a solid tumor in my chest with no bone marrow involvement, I was able to donate marrow to myself and have an autologous transplant.
While being in the bone marrow transplant unit wasn’t the most pleasant twenty-three days of my life, I pushed through. On July 17, 1991, I walked off of that unit into the brilliant sunshine taking in every sight and smell. It seemed as if everything was in Technicolor. I have enjoyed a cancer-free existence since that day and this summer marks my 25th anniversary.
Many people ask, “Why do you still talk/write about this? It’s old news; just enjoy your life.”
Here is the thing. Cancer is ubiquitous. It seems a week hardly passes without hearing of someone’s recent diagnosis, which always reminds me of my own struggle, as well as my good fortune. While its old news for me, it’s not old news for the young person entering the transplant unit today. It’s not old news for the parents admitting their child for this difficult (yet life-saving) procedure. In 1991, I had no reference point or anyone to look to that had long-term survival post-transplant, so if my twenty-five years can provide hope to any patient or family in the throes of transplantation, I certainly want to speak up.
I never want to forget my experience. It informs every corner of my life and how I live it, savor it. To find meaning in those messy parts and to use it in service for those that are still in its midst is a privilege.
First, Erin and I are pregnant and due in October! It will be our first, and it’s such a miracle given all we’ve been through. I applied for two national fertility grants, and incredibly we won both and actually had to turn one down. It is amazing. We are having a little girl 🙂
Also, I am meeting my donor who is from Germany this June! June 13 in Nashville – which is my hometown – at the City of Hope celebrity softball game. It’s the game’s 25th anniversary and I am their guest of honor. I still can’t believe it. My donor’s name is Jonas, he’s 23 years old and that’s all they will tell me. City of Hope has been so generous to share my story and cover the expenses of our meeting. I am so excited I can hardly stand it.
I started a new job in late March here in town at one of the largest internet marketing companies in the U.S. I am a marketing manager for clients that include large law firms, hospitals, and franchises. The company is incredible and I work with amazing people. I’ve never loved a job this much, it’s a bit strange. I feel very fortunate.
I’m flattered that you guys consider me part of The BMF family and I believe so much in our cause. Please let me help however I can.
Sending my best from California,