From 62 to 6…Robert, this one is for you!

This has been an exciting year for me, and at the top of the list is being 6 years out from my stem cell transplant!  Six years ago today I was very sick.  All of the toxic chemo had kicked in and totally killed my bone marrow.  I had found out that my donor’s stem cells were on a flight to MD Anderson in Houston and , after being worked on in the lab all night, would be ready for me the next day.  This is an indescribable feeling only a survivor sister or brother would understand.  To be so sick, but to be incredibly hopeful and thankful!  To be a survivor five or ten years out seemed an eternity and unthinkable.  It was a time of living minute to minute.

Fast forward to April 17, 2017.  My phone rings at 6:00 A.M.and in my grogginess and realizing it was still dark, thought it must be some kind of emergency.  Nope, it was my son, Hayes, singing Happy Birthday to me!  That was oh so special and started my day out in the best way!  Throughout the day that I turned 62 years old,  I received wonderful cards and calls, signed up for social security ( hahaha!), and started thinking.  

Thought about how I no longer “think” like a sick person.  Ok, I still obsess on hand washing!  Thought about how I feel better than I have felt long before my diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome eleven years ago.  Thought about how I have my mojo back.  Thought about how I can run 3 miles in 30 minutes every day.  Thought about how incredibly blessed I am with good health, family, and my awesome husband, Wade, who loves me completely and wonderfully!  Thought about how it was all worth it!

Fast forward to last week when I had my 6 month appointment with Dr. Hosing at MD Anderson.  I love my appointments with her!  Her nurse, Kelly, is the best!   This time, when Dr. Hosing walked in, she said my blood work was so normal that we had no medical issues to talk about, so can we just visit?  Where have you travelled?  We chatted for a while, I hugged her neck, and thought about how much I love her.  And I thought about the perfect, expert, loving care she has given me since I became her patient after Dr. Garcia Mañero released me to her.  Going back to MD Anderson is not dreaded.  No, it’s more like going back to the people and place where I was given another chance!  Going back home.  It’s looking forward to seeing people I love.  Dr. Garcia Manero, I’m going to see you next time I am there and give you a big hug!  You knew the absolute perfect time for my transplant!

None of this would be possible without one person, my donor and my friend, Robert!  He is my lifesaver.  At 19 years old, he stepped up and donated those awesome stem cells to an unknown stranger.  What an incredible guy he is!  Last summer, my husband and I were honored to attend his wedding to his beautiful bride, Theresa, in Pennsylvania. We stayed with his parents, and were able to meet his extended family and friends.  It was an amazing experience!  You fellow survivors can relate to the indescribable love, closeness, and thankfulness you feel for your donor.   Thank you, Robert, for being my lifesaver.  For your selfless act of giving me your stem cells.  (Best stem cells EVER!)  For your friendship!

Robert got into the Be The match registry through Coach Andy Talley’s “Get in the Game” program.  Thanks, Coach Talley, for all you do to get college athletes into the registry!

For all of you facing a transplant or recovering from one, never give up hope.  Follow your Doctor’s advice and instructions perfectly, take your meds, rely on family and friends for support, keep putting one foot in front of the other even when you don’t feel like it, eat healthy food, exercise, think positive thoughts, develop your spirituality, and be thankful!

This one is for you Robert!  I am so thankful for you and  I love you!  Happy 6!!!!!

Coincidence…or Godwink

co-in-ci-dence noun

A striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance

synonyms: accident, chance, serendipity, fortuity, happenstance, fate

A few weeks ago Wade and I were in Houston for my 6 month checkup at MD Anderson Cancer Center.  I am a stem cell transplant survivor about to celebrate my 4 year transplant birthday.  It was my 22nd bone marrow aspiration and biopsy…yes, that’s right…22!  All went well with my appointments. My awesome doctor, Dr. Chitra Hosing, gave me a big hug and told me she wished all of her patients were doing as well as I am!  I am still in remission!  After finishing up at the hospital, we headed over to the Galleria to have dinner at The Oceanaire and then a nightcap at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse next door.  After a wonderful meal at The Oceanaire, we sidled up to the bar at Del Frisco’s.  The gentleman sitting next to me was alone, so Wade and I struck up a conversation with him.  He was in town on business, and when he mentioned he was from Philadelphia, I told him that my stem cell donor, Robert, is from Pennsylvania and was a student at UPenn at the time he entered the Bone Marrow Registry and ultimately donated his stem cells to me. Coincidentally, (or not), Gene is a good friend of Andy Talley, the head football coach at Villanova.   From his website, talleybonemarrow.org:  “The main goal of our foundation  is to add donors to the Be The Match Registry®.  Coach Talley has had a relationship with Be The Match® for many years. Together, through the initiative “Get in the Game”, they have organized many opportunities to join the Be The Match Registry across college campuses nationwide. As an extension of its mission, the ATBMF is committed to supporting Be The Match in its endeavors.”  My donor, Robert, has told me that his coach at UPenn, Al Bagnoli, encouraged his team to join the registry.  Coach Bagnoli was influenced to do so by his good friend, Coach Talley.  A year after Robert joined the registry, he was chosen as a perfect match to be my donor.  At 19 years old, Robert saved my life! Getting to visit with Gene was very special to me.  What a great man! 

Was this a mere chance sitting next to Gene from Philly, Coach Talley’s good friend? in Houston?

  A couple of weeks later, Wade took me to Santa Fe, NM to celebrate my 60th birthday, although I feel my stem cell transplant birthday is the one to truly celebrate.  We went to Pasqual’s for breakfast and sat at the big community table.  Two young ladies from Washington DC sat down next to us, Sanam and Amber.  Sanam told me she is working on traveling to each of the 50 states.  This vacation was New Mexico!  They were so much fun to visit with.  They told us of many interesting places they had visited in the Santa Fe area.  I’ve been going to Santa Fe for a long, long time and I learned about places and things I had never heard of!  This was their last day. They were catching a flight in the afternoon back to DC.  When I mentioned to Sanam that I am a stem cell transplant survivor, I learned something truly remarkable about her…she was nominated to compete for Woman of the Year for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in 2011!  She was one of twenty Washingtonians nominated to compete for the honor.  She raised a lot of money for this organization!  I felt a special connection to Sanam.  She is a beautiful and amazing woman, inside and out.  She was actually working on this campaign while I was in the hospital getting my transplant!  This truly touched me!

Was sitting next to Sanam and Amber in Santa Fe a mere chance or coincidence?

  Wade, Holly, Sanam, and Amber

Just saying and truly believing, getting to connect with these two, Gene and Sanam, far away from all of our homes was not a coincidence!  It was a Godwink!  And for that I am truly thankful!