Sending a child off to college is an emotional experience for most parents. It was especially poignant for Mary Rose and Kevin McDermott when they drove their son, Matthew, to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in August of 2013: Mary Rose was four months pregnant with Matthew in 1994 when she found out she had Hodgkin lymphoma.
Although faced with a difficult situation, members of the medical team at Roswell Park “were comfortable giving me chemotherapy,” Mary Rose recalls, “because they felt the molecules in the drugs were too large to pass through the placenta.” Matthew was born four months later and “has been your average child, health-wise and everything else.”
Six months of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation treatments put Mary Rose in remission, but four and a half years later, the cancer returned. This time her doctors recommended a blood stem cell transplant using her own cells (an autologous BMT).
“It’s devastating when they first say the word ‘relapse,’” she says, “but after you have time to digest, you start the plan they set out for you and just tackle it one day at a time.”
Mary Rose faced special challenges as a young mother. Matthew was then four years old, so she and Kevin had to explain what was going to take place. "We were extremely open and honest with him, but it would come to a point where he had enough information and would put his hand up and walk away.”
She also had to face an extended separation from him while hospitalized during the transplant process. At that time, children were not usually allowed in the BMT Center, but with special permission and strict precautions in place, Kevin surprised his wife by taking Matthew to visit her ten days after the transplant.
“My husband had to warn him that I had lost my hair, and I had also lost ten pounds in ten days,” says Mary Rose. “When he first walked into the room, Matthew didn’t come right to me, but then after a few minutes, he came over to sit on my lap and everything was fine.”
Fifteen years later, Mary Rose remains cancer-free and is monitored at Roswell Park’s BMT Survivors Clinic. “That regular one-year checkup is really important. I have a great general practitioner, but the BMT team are experts on all aspects of a transplant and are up to date on the national criteria that change as more is learned about this form of treatment. There are so many issues that can arise afterward, even many years later, that the BMT team are on top of. For example, as a precaution, I had all of my childhood vaccines again, and now they test me for other types of cancer that can be a result of the chemotherapy I received. The team keeps me very healthy.”
Today Mary Rose is the Annual Fund Manager for the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, which raises money for research and patient care programs. She takes great pride in the fact that Matthew, now 19, completed several internships at Roswell Park while he was in high school. Today he is studying chemistry at UNC Chapel Hill in the hope of pursuing some aspect of medical research.
“At the time I had the transplant, I wasn't sure I was going to make it a year,” Mary Rose recalls. “But I told myself, I need to do this. I need to get through it. I need to be there for Matthew.”