The First Battle...
On September 10th 2014, I went in to get a routine blood test requested by my physician for a yearly check-up. That night he called me around 7pm right after dinner while I was hanging out with the family and getting settled in for the night...so I thought. The conversation was something like this...
DR: John, I need you to go to the ER tonight and check in for some tests.
Dr: Your White Blood Cells and Platelets are all over the place and I don't like what l see.
Then, he proceeded to ask me about symptoms I may have had, however, all could be explained by having 3 children, working full time and working out 4-5 days per week. Taking his advice, I went in and they told me I would have to stay overnight to do some more tests in the morning but they think I may have (AML) Acute Myeloid Leukemia. I had never heard of it but did understand it was cancer. I felt fear, shock and some tears were shed with that news however decided I would see what the tests would show the next day.
The next morning 9/11/2014 I was told that it was confirmed, I did have AML. At that moment my only concern was if I had a chance to beat it...period. I never once googled it and took the doctors words as the gospel. I had a good chance of getting into remission since I was young, physically and mentally strong. Most people affected by this disease are in their 60's so much of the data was based on an older demographic. My focus shifted to doing whatever I had to do to beat it. Any of you that know me understand that I am a very competitive person and knew with my will, determination and my faith would pull me through. I thought of my beautiful wife of 13 years and my 3 amazing children with a 4th on the way (we found out a week before I was diagnosed). I knew they needed me and I needed to be with them for much longer. I also thought of why...why was I in this position? I couldn't yet answer that but I knew there was a reason. I know God didn't give me cancer, I know that I did not cause this in any way...I was randomly chosen. I believe everyone goes through events in their lives that are challenging and are meant to open their eyes and understand that there is a greater purpose...and this was mine. I believe that through struggle and suffering come greatness and this was my opportunity to see what I was really made of. So I accepted this fight and thought of nothing else but beating this disease.
The first step, I learned I was going to be in the hospital for about 4 weeks straight. I went through 7 days of 24 hour chemotherapy and had an additional chemo 3 days out of the 7 as well. I battled through and kept a positive mindset through the treatment even though I got MRSA, C-Diff and had the worst fevers possible. It was during those fevers when I discovered the power of God and would love to share with any who would like to hear my testimony. It was the challenge of my life but I remained positive and made it through and got into remission!!!
Unlike many other cancers, once into remission, treatment does not end. The next step, I had a decision to make, either I could go for more chemotherapy (Consolidation) or get a stem cell transplant. AML has genetic sub-types and I was what the Dr's called intermediate risk with no genetic mutations so I got to make a choice as to what my next step was. It was unreal to me that I had a choice of which treatment I got next. Consolidation chemo hopes to kill off any lingering cancer cells where a transplant is taking a bone marrow/stem cell match from a family member or the donor registry. The goal is to have the new cells engraft and become your new cancer fighting DNA.
My wife and I went to Dana Farber and got a second opinion. They suggested that I get the transplant, in fact, if I had done my induction (the initial chemo) there to achieve remission, they would not have even given me a choice. There were so many things to consider including risk and reward. The consolidation chemo had lower levels of risk as a procedure with higher chance of it coming back at some point. The transplant was a higher risk as a procedure but the only chance for a cure. A huge factor in my decision was that my brother was a 100% match which is only about a 25% chance of happening. So it felt right in my gut all while knowing would be in the hands of the highly reputable Dana Farber Cancer Institute. So I figured...go big or go home!