In 1989 I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was 29 years old, five months pregnant and had a two-year-old daughter. I had a grapefruit size tumor attached to my lung and my doctors planned to prolong my pregnancy by giving me half the radiation they would normally use to shrink the tumor. I gave birth three weeks early and began chemotherapy immediately. I was treated for six months, all while caring for a newborn and toddler.
The tumor shrank but then began to grow in another area so I was told I needed a bone marrow transplant to save my life. I was directly admitted into the transplant unit where I remained for seven weeks. I had a great support system, with my husband visiting daily and other family members as well, but not seeing my children for over a month was extremely difficult. I was a young mom and could not imagine my daughters possibly growing up without a mother.
While being treated at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, Christina Merrill, now the founder and Executive Director of The Bone Marrow Foundation, was my social worker. Christina’s visits helped me get through the seven weeks inpatient and I continued to see her during my outpatient clinic visits as well.
It has been 26 years since my transplant and I am feeling great! My daughters Shari, 29, and Michelle, 26, are amazing and my husband Andy is now a trustee of the Foundation. I was a dental hygienist for 30 years and retired in 2014. Since retiring, I have been volunteering at the Foundation and it has been great for me to be able to help support an organization that is so meaningful to me and to my family.
As I read the hundreds of patient applications each week requesting support for caregiver expenses, lodging near the hospital, transportation, food, insurance co-pays and other financial needs, I am grateful the Foundation is able to assist them and their families during such a difficult time in their lives. Volunteering at The Bone Marrow Foundation is so rewarding for me, especially knowing the time I invest allows the Foundation to help more patients who are struggling.
Dr. Kersey was a research pioneer, longtime professor and head of the University of Minnesota team. He was founding director of the University’s Cancer Center, which became a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in 1998. He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003 from the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation.
The first lymphoma patient that Dr. Kersey cured, Dave Stahl, is still alive today. Dave was 16 at the time of his transplant and had a rare form of cancer – Birkitt’s Lymphoma.
Meet Ana, Eugene, and John. They are the latest Lifeline Project participants to be profiled in our ongoing series highlighting the needs of transplant patients.
Ana was initially diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma in December of 2009. She was treated with six cycles of R-CHOP chemotherapy and went into remission in June of 2010. Unfortunately she relapsed a year later and would need to undergo more chemotherapy as well as an autologous stem cell transplant. Ana has been through a lengthy treatment and could use help with her medical expenses.
Eugene is a former case manager, social worker, and secondary school teacher whose working career was cut short in January of 2009 when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Despite undergoing treatment and a bone marrow transplant his cancer is still not in remission. Eugene is continuing to undergo treatment, which has put him and his wife in a difficult financial situation. Neither of them can maintain employment while they focus on his care and they are desperately in need of assistance with their rent payments.
John was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) in April of 2010. Since that time he has undergone multiple rounds of chemotherapy, several blood transfusions, and a bone marrow transplant. As a result of the lengthy treatment, John could not return to work and was terminated by his employer. His wife, Debra, also needed to stop working in order to be his caregiver. They are now faced with multiple expenses, including the additional cost of housing near the transplant center. Despite the challenges they are focusing on the future and have just celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary.
To help these or any of the Lifeline Project participants, click here.