As I approach the 24th anniversary of my bone marrow transplant (BMT) after a diagnosis of Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML), each year I am more grateful than the last. January 31, 2020, marks 24 years since that day in 1996.
I am reminded of how devastated I was at the time of my diagnosis. I had not been feeling well, and had made repeated visits to the doctor. I was frustrated after weeks of having certain symptoms dismissed by my doctor and having found no more help from the specialists I visited to address other unexplained issues.
Fortunately, my physician was on vacation on a day when I became very sick. I saw someone else who finally requested blood work. Within one day, I was hospitalized, and my cancer journey began. I was in the hospital for a month, and had received a few rounds of outpatient chemotherapy. Eventually I was encouraged to consider a bone marrow transplant.
It took some time for me to process all of the information I had received. However, when I was given the news that the cancer would return without additional chemotherapy or a transplant, I decided to proceed. I did not want to live in fear of having a relapse.
I truly believe things happen in a Divine order. I only had two whole-siblings, and one was a perfect match. The odds of that happening are unlikely. At that time in his life, my brother was willing and physically able to donate his marrow. All of these factors helped to make my decision to have the transplant a little easier.
I was hospitalized for three months with the transplant. Whatever could go wrong, did. I experienced Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD), infections, complications in major organs, stomach/digestive problems, and so on. However, I knew I was in the right place to be properly cared for. In addition, I never was readmitted after the transplant. Also, I recognized that this experience was not only new for me, it was a learning opportunity for the medical staff. I was only the third allogeneic bone marrow transplant patient at this particular facility.
I am blessed to have had a supportive husband who had experienced a devastating stroke only two years earlier. He had recovered enough so that he could care for me when I needed him the most. Thankfully, we were not incapacitated at the same time. The three-month hospital stay also helped him because he was not yet at 100 percent.
Twenty-four wonderful years have been added to my life. During that time, I have learned to be more patient, compassionate, appreciative; and, my faith in God has grown tremendously.
My brother lived only ten years after the transplant; he was the victim of another form of cancer. However, before he passed, my brother shared with me that saving my life was the best thing he ever did in his life. I have been able to honor his incredibly generous gift by helping others who are going through a similar journey. I try to offer them hope and encouragement because I know their journey is a challenging one.
“Cancer Survivor” truly is not a club I would have chosen to join; but, I have benefited from some life-long lessons that otherwise I would not have learned.
I would like to also add that Juanita has been a real friend to the nbmtLINK, volunteering through the years, sharing her gifts. We thank her from the bottom of our hearts.
-Peggy Burkhard, Executive Director, nbmtLINK