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!

Three Years Out….just thinkin

Today is my 3rd birthday!  Three years ago I received a stem cell transplant at MD Anderson Cancer Center.  For the past week, I’ve just been doing a lot of thinking.

Thinking about Robert, my donor.  It was because of Robert’s totally unselfish, brave, and life saving act of donating his stem cells to a complete stranger, that I am writing this post today.  He was 19 years old at the time.  Even if he wasn’t my donor, I would still be completely impressed with Robert!  We had a great time together last summer in Chicago, along with my husband, Wade, Robert’s girlfriend, Theresa, and friends, Josh and Nicole.  Since Robert and I both like baseball, we attended a major league game in Chicago, the White Sox vs the Yankees (on that very day it was decided A-Rod could play…we sat 13 rows above 3rd base, and it was awesome!).  One perfect moment of this trip was getting a cab with Robert that had a Be The Match ad on top of the car with a photo of Robin Roberts!  It was mind blowing, and I really don’t feel like it was a random thing! 

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Thinking about how my life has changed.  I have a new ability to see people and things differently.  Call it intuitiveness, perceptiveness, achtung.  My priorities have changed.  I see things differently.  I have felt more connected to people, more caring toward people.  Just one example…last year while staying at the Greenbriar in West Virginia,I felt compelled to make friends with the doorman who has been employed there for more than 50 years.  We became great friends, and have in fact, corresponded.  His name is Frankie, and he is a loveable, perfect gentle man. He was very cautious not to breech any confidentialities, but did tell me Bob Hope was one of his favorite guests!   He was going to church that night and put me on their prayer list.  Here is a photo of Frankie and me.  (And go to the Greenbriar if you can!  It is an unbelievable place!)

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Thinking about MD Anderson Cancer Center, what a great institution it is, and how many lives they have saved.   Thinking about how caring and professional the staff is.  And my Awesome Doctors!  They truly are the best, the cream of the crop, unparalelled.  Dr.Garcia-Manero, my MDS doctor, and Dr. Hosing, my stem cell transplant doctor.  I can’t thank them enough!

 

Thinking about my husband Wade, my care giver.  He truly gave me the best care in the most loving, understanding way.  He provided me the opportunity to receive the best care in the world at MD Anderson.  And his caring and love never ends!  Thank you Wade!

 

Thinking about my family and the sacrifices they have made for me, and the unconditional love they have for me.  Thinking about my adorable grandchildren whom I love deeply am able to act normal and crazy with now that I am well.  This thought brings me back to Robert…

 

Thinking about Robert, who made this all possible for me.  Thinking about how thankful I am for him.  Thinking about how alike (but different) we are.  Thinking about how much I love him.  Thinking about how excited I am to see him and Theresa in just 3 1/2 weeks!  Thinking about how it was a “meant to be” thing that he joined the Be The Match registry.

 

It’s been a wonderful, eye-opening, blessed, amazing journey!  Thank you Robert!

 

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Wade, Holly, Robert, Theresa

01-25-2014 Flip Flop

A really good sign of wellness is the return of the ole mojo, energy, busy-ness, and not taking the time to blog! I can finally say that I feel like my self again, that person I was before I got sick. It’s been a long journey, a journey worth every step whether forward or backward, a journey that has blessed me with new friends, random acts of kindness, and the belief that chance meetings with strangers weren’t so random after all. It has been a life changing experience, for the better. Deep down in my heart I know I would still feel this way even if my outcome had not been successful. The love, caring, and kindness of others in the face of adversity is, for the lack of a better term, life changing!

Dr. Hosing, my stem cell transplant doctor at MD Anderson Cancer Center whom I dearly love, took me off of my immune suppressant drug, sirolimus, last July. I had a few bouts of minor Graft vs Host issues which were treated. Each time it returned, it was easier to get rid of, until finally, it didn’t return! I credit this to my awesome donor, Robert, and his strong immune system which I now call my own! Robert is one of those blessings of my life changing journey. It is impossible to find the words to express my love and gratitude for Robert, my life saver. A future blog will be about our awesome trip to Chicago with Robert and Theresa last summer when we went to the Chicago White Sox and Yankees game, that highly publicized first game A-Rod played. We had a great time!

OK, now for the flip flop part. Wade and I will be returning to MD Anderson on Monday. This time we are going for Wade, my beloved husband who was the most amazing care giver. Last fall we went to MD Anderson, his first appointment and my checkup appointment. How strange for us both to have medical record numbers and to split up to make all of our appointments! He has a very rare disease called Castleman’s disease. These are lymph node tumors. He has had two tumors removed, the first one was under his arm and removed about 25 years ago. The second one, 7 years ago in his neck, and he now has a large, very vascular tumor in his chest near his heart and lungs, making surgical excision too risky. When this tumor was found last summer during his yearly physical at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, we knew it was time to head to MD Anderson. My Dr. Garcia-Manero, who treated me at MD until my stem cell transplant, and whom I have the utmost respect and love for, recommended Dr. Luis Fayad who specializes in lymphoma and myeloma. After a pet scan, another tumor was found in his abdomen. Next week he will have another pet scan to see how much the tumors have grown, and a needle biopsy of the tumor in his abdomen. Then we will find out what his recommended treatment will be. There are two types of Castleman’s, one is a single tumor that affects one lymph node and doesn’t recur, and is not hereditary. Wade’s brother has had a single Castleman’s tumor removed years ago, and one of Wade’s daughters has had a Castleman’s tumor removed when she was 18 years old. So much for the non hereditary part! So, this is a nontypical difficult case. Most of the doctors whom Wade has seen haven’t heard of Castlemans since med school! The other type of Castleman’s occurs in clusters and sometimes turns into lymphoma. Thankfully, Wade’s tumors have been single lymph node tumors. We are both very pleased and have the utmost confidence in Dr. Fayad. On our first appointment with him, he played a little joke on us and made us laugh! We are so fortunate to be at MD Anderson, the number one cancer center in the nation with the very best doctors.

I will be starting on a new journey myself, that of caregiver. I hope and pray that I can care for Wade just as he cared for me…selflessly, lovingly, and completely. I will be able to understand the other side of the journey.

New Beginnings – Happy Birthday!

On was the day before Easter Sunday, Wade and I were outside doing some major yard work/cleanup.  Thanks to the drought we are in, there was lots of dirt from dust storms and suffering plants and grass.  Not a pretty sight…  The following morning there was one lonely, lovely purple flower on the vinca growing along the driveway.  I had to snap a picture…it was a sign of new growth, hope, rebirth, new beginnings…all of the things we are mindful about on Easter Sunday.  It was a sign!  I was in awe!

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Two days later, the birth of a new grandchild Ella, Haley and Jon’s first child.  A new beginning!  And since then, new beginnings everywhere in my great big wonderful family and family of friends!  Relationships mended, old friendships renewed, new friendships nurtured, moving on with new jobs and endless possibilities, new opportunities, and graduations from high schools and college.

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On my last appointment at MD Anderson a couple of weeks ago, everything was really good…only a few minor problems.  Dr. Hosing is letting me very slowly try weaning off of the immune suppressant drug I am on, sirolimus.  When I tried this last fall, it didn’t work very well. Graft Vs Host set in very quickly.  There were liver issues, and I was back on the drug.  However, last Monday when I had my blood checked, it was the most normal blood test results that I have had in years!

Today is my SECOND birthday!  Exactly 2 years ago I received stem cells from my donor, Robert.  What a trip it has been!  During those two years I suffered temporary blindness and migraine headaches from drug reactions to tacrolimus and cyclosporin, all of the usual terrible side effects from busulphan and ATG, weight loss of 40 pounds, graft vs host on my skin, in my upper GI and lower GI tracts, liver, and gums, muscle weakness and foot-drop from steroid use for GVHD, deep vein thrombosis in my left leg, and a very rare virus that we stem cell transplant patients are extremely unlucky to get – The dreaded BK Virus!  Then there are all of the emotional issues I dealt with.  Some of the most difficult were friends that moved on without me, chemo brain, and dealing with depression and forgetfulness.

I am not griping!  With my wonderful husband, Wade, constantly by my side, all of my energies, which were mostly spiritual rather than physical (fellow survivors will relate to lack of energy!), were devoted to getting through…getting by…getting well.  Each baby step offered new hope.  Baby steps turned into more normal steps, and sometimes even happy feet!

So, on this special day that I am now 2 years old, I want the world to know that all of those trying times are worth it.  Be steadfast, hopeful, positive and kind, appreciating each day, turning baby steps into happy feet.  We can only have positive outcomes when we have positive attitudes.  I pray daily for positivity in my life.  And I pray for those less fortunate than me.

Speaking of all of these new beginnings, Robert, my donor, is my life saver!  With out his complete and selfless act of love and compassion by giving me, a total stranger, his stem cells and a new chance at life, I would not be writing this post.  He just graduated from college and will soon be entering law school.  Another new beginning!  I know he will be very successful with anything he does.  Robert, you are awesome and amazing!  Today I am celebrating 2 glorious years of new life and new beginnings.  But I am also celebrating Robert!  I love you Robert!  And I love my great big beautiful family!

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01-31-2013 My “New Normal” – Survivorship

After dealing with illness, traveling, the holidays, and not feeling very creative, I have decided to get back to the blog.  To those of you who have worried about my absence, I totally appreciate your concern!  I am doing pretty darn good, all things considered…which has made me give a lot of thought to my new normal.

My friend, Julie, a cord blood transplant survivor, wrote me a sweet note a few weeks ago and mentioned that she was trying to find her “new normal”.  It was nice to have a name for this phase of my survivorship.  As a stem cell transplant survivor, I had been thinking a lot about it myself and struggling.  “Whenever I am off of my immune suppressant drug, sirolimus, I can do such and such” and then, “what if that never happens”.   I had to throw off my rose colored glasses and realize that “normal” will never be the same as it was before I got sick. This doesn’t mean it is particularly bad, it just means my life is different.  It is impossible to go through the journey without being changed.   

The first of December I got sick with a sore throat.  It was the first time I had been sick since my transplant at MD Anderson a year and a half ago.  I totally understand now why we must go through all the things we do to prevent getting sick.  Without much of an immune system (I am still on sirolimus), I became very ill very quickly, was hospitalized, and it took a month to get well.  Which made me realize the importance of compliance.  As time goes on, carelessness can creep in.  I truly realized the importance of all the things my survivorship nurse at MD Anderson had taught me.  I’m really good at hand washing and sanitizing, and staying away from people who are sick, but I had come to the realization that I must live my life like a healthy person out in the real world  instead of staying couped up at home afraid of getting sick.  I guess what started me thinking about all of this was that a  few months ago  I tried to get off of sirolimus, with the permission of Dr. Hosing.  It didn’t work.  It took only a week to have symptoms of Graft vs Host Disease, and much, much longer than that to get back to where I was.  Actually I don’t feel like I am as good as I was before trying to get off of sirolimus.  I am really looking forward to my appointments at MD Anderson next month.  This brings me back to my new normal.

I can honestly say that the things I occasionally gripe about…taking a lot of medicine, chemo fried hair, tiredness, frequent blood tests, feeling isolated, and lots of other “stuff”, are really not all that bad.  In fact I am really proud of where I have been and where I am now in this journey.  It is just a matter of acceptance and compliance.  And remembering all of the many wonderful blessings and friendships that have been given me!  The positive things far outweigh the negative.

So, here it is in a nutshell!  Find your new normal, keep compliant with your meds and care, live life to its fullest, and accept the beauty and wonderfulness of being given a second chance!

 

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11-09-12 Cancerwise Blog Post

Check out my 2 part blog post on MD Anderson Cancerwise – it chronicles my stem cell transplant at MD Anderson last year.

http://bit.ly/RKDuX0

http://bit.ly/TyYJLt
Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Be kind and love one another!

Holly

10-24-12 Be The Match Donor Drive

Last year after I received stem cells from my donor Robert, Wade said he would like for us to sponsor a donor drive in Hereford and we finally got to do that last Wednesday!  Roberta and Julie from Be The Match came to Hereford from Fort Worth to conduct the drive.  Two newspaper articles, 3 radio interviews, lots of flyers, and getting out to talk to people really helped to get people there.  There is a misconception about the whole process being very scarey and painful.  Hopefully we raised some awareness about the procedures and the need for people to get into the registry.    The new age requirement of 18 to 44 years old prevented a lot of people from becoming donors.  We ended up getting 49 people registered and a sizable amount of monetary donations raised for Be The Match!  For the first donor drive in our community, we were extremely pleased!  The bank employees grilled German sausage for free sausage wraps, and each person who registered got a free t-shirt.  Being involved with a project like this makes me realize how awesome our community is to show support.  I am so grateful to every person who became a donor or contributed money, and to all those who helped in any way with the drive!  You could be the one to save a life…just like Robert saved mine!

Jonathan, our first donor!

Julie, yours truly, and Roberta

Wade and Danny after cooking 300 sausages!

Awesome t-shirts!

 

 

After I got home that afternoon, I emailed Erin Frazier, my wonderful PA at MD Anderson about some issues I was having.  I had quit taking my sirolimus (immune suppressant) about 2 weeks earlier.  Dr. Hosing had given me permission to try getting off of the sirolimus since I had already cut back on them for 2 months and had no problems.  She told me to get my blood tested every 2 weeks to watch for liver GVHD since I had that problem before.   Well….I had GI problems and my blood test showed that my liver function had gotten worse.  In fact I was pretty sick by Thursday.  So Erin told me to get back on the sirolimus, and I have been feeling better every day.  Yay!  I will go back to MD Anderson in February for my check up and a bone marrow biopsy and will go from there.  I guess I am through with “rushing it”!

My dad and sister Jan, were here for the weekend.  We had a great time visiting relatives, friends, family!  Here is a picture of my wonderful Daddy with my sweet Grandkids!  What a great way to end this post!

Until next time,

Holly

08-29-12 My MD Anderson visit

I think this was a first…all news was good news!  My appointment with Dr. Hosing went very well.  I get to take my sirolimus every other day instead of every day.  We are watching closely for any problems, but so far no signs of graft vs host.  I totally understand that GVHD can pop up at any time, even years from now.  I have been on this reduced schedule for 3 weeks and I am thrilled!  In fact I feel better than I have in a very long time.  Robert’s (my donor) immune system is going to be awesome I can already tell!  Dr. Hosing doesn’t need to see me for 6 months.  This is a first.  I have been going every month, and then last time, 3 months.  This is progress!  I am going to miss Dr. Hosing, Erin, and Kelly!  I got 5 immunizations, 2 in one arm and 3 in the other.  Wow, after those injections and then a bone marrow biopsy, I was pretty sore!  But we were off to Philly to meet Robert so it didn’t matter!

While at the hospital, I went up to the 8th floor in the Leukemia department to see Dr. Garcia-Manero.  He had read my MD Anderson Cancerwise post about him and had called me, so I asked him if I could come find him.  It was really good to see him and hug his neck.  What a special man and awesome doctor!  Here is a picture:

 

 

 

Another visit I wanted to make was to the 11th floor where I was hospitalized for my stem cell transplant.   Wade and I got off of the elevator, went around the corner, and the flood gates just opened right up!  I experienced a lot of emotions that I was not expecting.  I was just hoping to see Jerusha or Mara, my nurses!  I didn’t get to see them, but I unexpectedly ran in to Alison Gulbis, my very first PharmD whom I love!  She was making rounds up there.  I got to see a photo of her baby girl, who is beautiful just like Alison!    Alison is extremely good at her job.  She helped me out of some bad times with good meds!  Thank you Alison!

 

 

 

The month of August is Houston Restaurant Weeks, which is a great thing.  You can eat at very expensive restaurants for $35.00 per person with $5.00 going to the Houston Food Bank.  Three or four courses with several choices.  It is a great way to try new places to eat, especially the pricey ones!  And to help the hungry.  Last year this program raised over $800,000!  That’s exciting!  We tried Brenner’s on the Bayou with friends Lucy Richardson (Media Specialist at MD Anderson) and John Moffett.  It was great fun!  We also tried III Forks which is downtown, with friends Patti (my bone marrow biopsy nurse) and Richard,  it was delicious!  And we had great Mexican food at Sylvia’s with Kelli.  Fun times!

This week I am in the throes of chemo…my 11th cycle.  My fatigue gets unbelievable at times, but the worst side effect this time is that my teeth are extremely sensitive.  It feels like every single nerve is exposed and screaming!  Since I will be finished with the Vidaza after 12 cycles, I’m not griping because I’m nearly there!  There was a time around the 8th cycle that I thought I couldn’t make it.  I’m so glad I didn’t give up.  The only reason I kept on keeping on was because I didn’t want the first 8 cycles to be in vain!  And Dr. Hosing felt like this was an important thing for me to do to help increase my odds of NOT having a relapse.  Almost there!

There are definitely ups and downs in cancer treatment, and I feel like I am finally in the ups!!!

Be kind, smile a lot, and love the one you’re with:)

 

 

08-19-2012 I MET MY DONOR, ROBERT!

What an awesome week I had!  On August 8th and 9th, Wade and I were in Houston at MD Anderson for my appointments.  My appointment with Dr. Hosing went very well!  We enjoyed dinners with friends and family, visited the 11th floor where I was hospitalized for my transplant, ran into Alison Gulbis, my PharmD, and had a visit and hug with Dr. Garcia-Manero!  It was all so very good!  I will blog about all of this next week and post some photos.  I got some great photos I will share!

We then flew to Philadelphia to meet Robert and his family.  Our flight was delayed due to weather, but we finally arrived at the hotel (The Inn at Penn – which is next to the Penn campus – a great place to stay).  The Gawlas family was waiting for us there.  It was an unbelievable experience to meet Robert and his family!  He was there with his parents, Bob and Cathy, brother David, and sister Katie.  I had waited a long time for this!  Yes, I was teary…happy tears to finally meet the young man who had saved my life!  It was an indescribable experience!  There are no words to describe it!  We went to dinner at Fogo de Chao and it was delicious.

                                                                                                                  Left to right:  David, Robert, Katie, Cathy, Bob, me and Wade

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        ROBERT!

The next day, Robert gave us a tour of the University of Pennsylvania campus which is a beautiful campus.  The University is the 4th oldest in the United States, founded in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin.  We ended up in the football stadium where Robert plays football.  This will be his senior year.  Wade and I hope to go to one of his games:)  Like when Penn plays Harvard since his brother David plays football for Harvard!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       The Love Sign UPenn campus

That afternoon we saw the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the US Mint.

                                                                                                                                     The Liberty Bell, Robert and Katie with Independence Hall in the background.

After a little rest, we loaded up and went to eat Philadelphia Cheese Steak sandwiches on our way to a Phillies game.  Geno’s and Pat’s are across the street from one another and in big competition to have the Number One Philly Cheese Steak so we got sandwiches from both places and tried them both.  You gotta order them with “Cheese Whiz wit” or “Cheese Whiz without” (grilled onions).  They were delicious, well worth the wait!  You definitely have to get Cheese Whiz.  It just melts into the steak!  Notice the lines and the traffic in the pictures!  We voted and half of us liked Geno’s best, the other half, Pat’s.  It was a toss up!

                                                                                                                         This is a mural on a brick building next to Geno’s.  Pretty cool!

Visiting all of the major league baseball parks is on my bucket list, and Robert (not knowing this) suggested we all go to the Phillies/Cardinals game Saturday night.  I was thrilled!  It’s a great ballpark.  I especially liked the Liberty Bell that lights up anytime the Phillies hit a home run.  Unfortunately we didn’t get to watch the bell do its special thing that night…no home runs!  Robert’s girlfriend, Teresa, joined us for the cheese steaks and game.  It was lots of fun!

                                                                                                                                                                                                Bob, David, and Cathy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Robert and Teresa

After the game it was time to say goodbye which was very difficult.  There were lots of tears from me and lots of hugs.  I was not wanting the weekend to be over!   It truly was an amazing weekend spent with the most unselfish, giving person and his wonderful family, the one who gave me my life back.  Thank you Robert!  And thank you Cathy and Bob!

A few final thoughts:  Roberta, from Be the Match, the bone marrow registry, told me that Robert and I would be a lot alike since we have the exact same DNA.  Over this weekend visit it became apparent!  To be so different and at the same time share the very same DNA is mind blowing.  One thing is for sure…the Gawlas family felt like family from the very beginning when we met.  It was never awkward or uncomfortable.  It was more like discovering a missing link in my life!  And there is definitely a special connection there!  I hope they will always be a part of my life!  I will be forever thankful for Robert!  I love you Robert!  You are AWESOME!

Please get into the bone marrow registry at BeTheMatch.com so that you can possibly save a life just like Robert did!