AML Survivor: Life After My Transplant

When Ian Cherico was rushed to the hospital, he was in a fight for his life.

“Minutes later and I could have died,” he says. Ian was only 17 years old at the time, and his body was shutting down. It all started with a headache he couldn’t shake.

On the way back from a high school rugby tournament, “I got a migraine that wouldn’t go away,” he recalls. It lasted all week and progressed to full-body aches and flu-like symptoms. After a quick trip to the doctor’s office, he was told: “It’s a virus, get some rest.” But when he woke up vomiting at 4 a.m., he knew something was wrong.

He went to the emergency room for some additional tests, and a routine blood draw revealed the unthinkable — Ian’s white blood cell count was 239,000. A healthy count is 10,000. He was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), but that wasn’t all. He had a fungal infection in his lungs, an enlarged liver, splenic infarction and cranial nerve paralysis. He was rushed to Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo for apheresis and his first round of chemotherapy. After five days at Children’s, he was transferred to Roswell Park to undergo a very long and daunting treatment process that consisted of high-dose chemo and an allogeneic bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor. “Honestly, the transplant was slightly underwhelming,” he says. “It was like a blood transfusion, but I knew it was much more than just that, it was my new life in a bag!”

Ian didn’t always have this positive outlook. With an uncertain future and a bleak prognosis, he struggled to find hope. “When the doctor told me I had leukemia, I thought I was going to die.” But he turned to his hobbies to find the strength he needed to fight. He kept himself immersed in what he loves. “I am an avid sportsman, and I love taking photos and making videos," he says. “I forced myself to stay busy.”

Although it wasn’t a cruise to the finish line, Ian is 175 days post-transplant, feeling good and studying Digital Media at Hilbert College. He’s relapsed three times, battled GVHD and BK virus, which may sometimes cause blood in the urine, but he continues to stay true to his cancer-fighting motto: “Always look for positive inspiration in what you love. Stay occupied, stay healthy and stay strong!”

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Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.