On Friday, October 10, I will once again, for the third time, turn two!
The first time took place quite a while ago back on November 13, 1977. I don’t have much memory of that first celebration of being two however the following two celebrations are different. They are different for two main reasons: I have memory of them, or will have memory, and they also both involve birthdays of a different kind. I’m talking about birthdays for my immune system. And tomorrow, Friday, is the second birthday of my newest immune-system. And I have had a few.
Medical lesson: When someone has a bone marrow or stem cell transplant and receives cells from another person it is called an “allogenic” transplant. There are also transplants, both bone marrow and stem cell, that involve getting your own cells which are called “autogolous.” I have had two “allo” transplants: one was bone marrow one was stem cell. With each “allo” transplant, you have chemo and sometimes radiation designed to completely clear-out your existing immune system. That is what I had done each time. Then the next key step is that once you have erased the existing, faulty, immune system (the immune system which in my case was unable to fight off my type of Leukemia) is to get another immune system, which in my case was my dad’s immune system (or his cells anyway). The theory is that my dad’s cells can fight off my type of Leukemia. The fact that I’m still here is proof that the theory works for this long for sure! Once those new cells get inside me they set up shop and form an adjusted version of my dad’s immune system. That process I just described is a very difficult step a lot of times, filled with ups and downs, lots of drugs, and usually lots of hospital as well. But it can and does happen.
In my case I was told the first time out that if I made it to my “second birthday” with my new immune system then my risk for relapsing, having my Leukemia come back, would drop significantly. Well on April 13, 2001, I celebrated being two again, for the first time, as that was the second anniversary of my first transplant.
As most all of you know, about three months after celebrating that milestone, my Leukemia did what it wasn’t supposed to do… it came back. I relapsed at a very unusual time, but I’ve made a little bit of a career out of doing things the hard way. This was no exception. After relapsing, I had more chemo and ultimately would decide to have a second transplant which took place in Ottawa on October 10, 2001.
The second time I had a transplant the procedure was much different for me as I went to a different hospital with a very different approach to transplants. It appeared customized for patients like me, who like responsibility, control, and to participate in their own care. The second time out, things were much different after returning home from transplant.
As I look back on the past two years I have managed to avoid a trip to the Intensive Care Unit, I returned to “active duty” at work much quicker than the first time out, I resumed the chasing of my dream/the creation of my vision as opposed to establishing it out-right the first time out, I have a different mind-set and an evolving perspective on today that like back then, I wouldn’t change for the world.
My docs do feel that my risk for relapse increases with time the second time out as usually the first remission is the longest. But I can tell you that those predictions or statistics aren’t bothering me. I get what I get. I know it’s all for the right reason, all the gifts and shit, it’s all a gift really, it just may take some adjusting to see the good stuff. I am as excited about the road ahead as I have ever been. We have some really exceptional times ahead of us.
Last Friday just a week ago, I had one of those experiences where you actually live a dream you have had. Not long before I relapsed and had my second transplant I created this vision of having several thousand students at Mile One Stadium in St. John’s for one of my presentations. Well, we pulled that off last week thanks to some major help by the hosts of the 19th Canadian Student Leadership Conference, Prince of Wales Collegiate. It was quite an afternoon last week and great start to my third year with my newest immune system.
Have a great Friday, act like a two-year old; it will make you feel good.
Always…Live life. Love life.