Nobody expects to hear the words “Your child has cancer.” Nobody is prepared. And in our family’s case, our son Emmett was diagnosed with leukemia in an emergency room, and treatment began that day in the ICU. We had no time at all to prepare, or even to comprehend it all at the time.
For the past three years, Barb Murak has been an unofficial messenger for Roswell Park patients who are recovering from a blood or marrow transplant (BMT). Pulling a handcart filled with art supplies, from time to time the Artist-in-Residence stops by an inpatient room to deliver a surprise. “Knock, knock!” she calls out. “You’ve got mail!”
If spring is best greeted in a garden then I was fortunate to be in Buffalo in the spring, while my husband Roman was receiving his BMT at Roswell Park. We had arrived in mid-March (just as winter was ending) for Roman to be admitted. I was staying at the nearby Kevin Guesthouse.
I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (AML) in August 2014. Two weeks later I found out that I would need a blood and marrow transplant (BMT). Four out of five of my siblings were tested. My one sister was going to be the donor, but she became ill and passed away before we were able to do the transplant. Afterward, we tried to find another match, but I did not match with anyone on the BMT registry. My youngest daughter Kelly was my only hope for a BMT match.
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.
One year ago, my husband, Roman, was hospitalized at Roswell Park in Buffalo, NY for a stem cell transplant. As Canadians, when we first learned of the opportunity to have BMT at Roswell Park, we had no idea of what lay ahead. We traveled from London, Ontario to Roswell Park for probably the most important meetings of our lives. As Roman met with his physicians and had medical tests, I attended a caregivers’ orientation where an experienced nurse explained my new role.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new indication for the oral drug lenalidomide (brand name Revlimid) as a maintenance therapy for multiple myeloma patients following autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplant (ASCT), also known as autologous blood and marrow transplant (BMT).
For patients with leukemia, lymphoma, and other blood cancers, a blood or marrow transplant can be a potential cure. But when the transplant uses marrow or blood stem cells from a donor, it can have two effects — one harmful and the other helpful.