‘Six to 10 years ago, I might have been told I didn’t have long to live. But today there’s hope.’
Lavon Amos remembers his childhood in Lackawanna, New York, when clothes drying on the line outdoors were often coated with rust-colored powder and the snow was frequently orange. “I believe that my childhood environment had a direct impact on the illnesses that developed later in my life,” says Lavon, 68, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999 and is a recent survivor of multiple myeloma.
Lavon was the youngest of four children, who grew up across the street from Bethlehem Steel, where their father worked. “Dad was working with plutonium, and that chemical was most likely brought into our home on his clothes,” says Lavon, whose mother, father and two older brothers all died of cancer. Both Lavon and his older sister are cancer survivors.
Diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2013, Lavon recalls feeling nauseated when he returned home from his job as a school bus driver in December 2012. As he walked toward the bathroom, his back “snapped” without warning. Because he had previously suffered a ruptured disc, doctors focused on his back issues, and it was three months before cancer was detected on a CT scan.
“I was recommended to have an evaluation at Roswell Park, where I learned what it really means to ‘spend just one day with us,’” says Lavon, recalling the cancer center’s tag line. “It’s a corny saying, but being in the shoes of a person who has experienced cancer, and taking the opportunity to spend one day with Roswell, you get it. It’s more than just ‘hurry up and let’s get this done.’ It’s about people who are patient and professional. It’s having the courage to fight the cancer and then having the opportunity to live cancer-free.”
Multiple myeloma, a cancer that begins in the plasma cells, is found mainly in bone marrow, but can appear anywhere on the body. “It hit me in my spine, my upper chest and ribs,” recalls Lavon. “I remember the struggle with getting information from multiple biopsies until Dr. Ron Alberico, the neuroradiologist from Roswell Park, finally did the biopsy that found the cancer. From there the root of the problem was found, and we understood the type of cancer I had and could find a way to treat it.”
From Challenges to Celebration — and Gratitude
Lavon’s treatment included radiation from late 2015 through early 2016, and oral chemotherapy, followed by an autologous stem cell transplant.
This spring, as Lavon celebrates four years cancer-free, the word “gratitude” comes up frequently.
“My years of cancers, and my family’s years and deaths from cancer, have been challenging in my life, along with earlier decades that included societal discrimination, police targeting, drug use, and anger and mistrust for authority,” says Lavon. “But I’ve also been blessed with loving people in my life, and a strong faith that has restored my belief in the power of mutual respect and care.
“I would not be alive today if it weren’t for Lucy, my wife of 25 years, who, in addition to being a nurse practitioner, helped steer me in the right direction and is a gift to me. She is caring and pushed me to find answers. She walked hand-in-hand with me to every appointment, saying, ‘We’ve got this.’ My family also helped in many ways, including moving our bed downstairs when I couldn’t make it up and down the stairs.”
He is grateful for their son, Rob, “the best decision I ever made in my life!” A graduate of St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and Syracuse University, Rob lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, pursuing a career in music at Live Nation.
And Lavon is grateful for an unexpected positive side effect of his cancer treatment: “The rheumatoid arthritis I’d suffered with for years seems to have been cured by the stem cell transplant to treat my cancer. I’m walking around with more energy and take no medications. Today I wear my rings on a chain, because they would fall off my fingers, as my hands are no longer swollen from the arthritis.”
“Who would have thought?” asks Lavon, who recently shared his experiences with other patients at Roswell Park on Myeloma Day. “It’s a little unbelievable that they can do this. Six to 10 years ago, I might have been told I didn’t have long to live. But today, I can share with others that there’s hope.”
If you’re a transplant and cellular therapy survivor, you’re invited to a TCT reunion at Roswell Park, Saturday, August 10, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. in Kaminski Park & Gardens.
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.