For the last eight years, I’ve felt tired. Not the kind of tired from raising three kids or working as a pediatric nurse. The kind of tired from battling cancer – twice.
In September 2007, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). Living in Black Hawk, South Dakota, my oncologist recommended I get a second opinion. I traveled to Nebraska Medicine and met with oncologist/hematologist James Armitage, MD. After a round of chemotherapy, I had an autologous stem cell transplant – meaning, the stem cells were from my own body.
Thankfully, the transplant worked and I was in remission for several years. But, even those years weren’t easy. My immune system had taken a big hit. I was constantly fighting off infections – including pneumonia. It forced me to leave my job as a pediatric nurse. A job I loved for 30 years.
This past September, I returned to Nebraska Medicine, where I was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). On November 11, I underwent my second stem cell transplant. This time, my older brother was the donor. A perfect match. 10 out of 10. His cells were extremely healthy and I’m hopeful this stem cell transplant will work for many, many years.
Since I have to wait 100 days post transplant before returning home to South Dakota, I’ll be spending Thanksgiving in Omaha. Luckily, my two daughters and grandchildren will come visit. I’m sure we’ll order a Thanksgiving meal from Hy-Vee and just enjoy the chance to be together.
When I think about my blessings this Thanksgiving, it’s a bit overwhelming. Of course, I’m beyond thankful for my wonderful family and friends. My three kids give me strength on my darkest days. It’s difficult battling cancer so far away from home – especially when you don’t have visitors every day. It gets lonely.
Thankfully, I have an extraordinary medical team. The physicians, nurses, social workers, nutritionists and staff are outstanding. It truly is a team effort on the Oncology Hematology Special Care Unit (OHSCU). Every person is involved. They are comforting, caring and keep me safe. Every day I feel myself getting stronger. Of course, since I’m a nurse, I do find myself giving them a few recommendations here and there. (Hint, hint, wink, wink – I would love a back rub!) But, bottom line – modern medicine is amazing. I have complete confidence in the cancer specialists at Nebraska Medicine.
The biggest thing I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving is my brother’s selfless gift. Without his stem cells, I hate to think where I might be today. For a guy who’s scared of needles, he didn’t hesitate to come off the ranch for two weeks and save my life. I am forever grateful.
This year, as you gather with your family and friends around the table, don’t take that moment for granted. If the turkey is dry or the pies are burnt, don’t sweat it. Have a grateful heart. Most importantly, trust in God that everything will be okay. I know I did.