You have cancer! Just about the last words any of us want to hear. We always think it is something that happens to other people, but not to me. Guess what? Surprise!
By the time I was diagnosed, my disease was fairly advanced. I had been having symptoms and feelings that something was wrong for only a short while. So by the time I had some testing done, I was already in deep trouble. The doctors left me with what they thought was a tough decision. My cancer required a bone marrow transplant.
Because I was already over age 65, transplants at that age had only been attempted regularly for less than five years and were only successful half of the time. The other option was to skip the transplant, avoid the entire months of getting sick and trying to recover, but have an 18–24-month life expectancy. Apparently, that is difficult choice for some patients. It wasn’t for me; I had many things I still wanted to see and do. There was only one path for me, endure the transplant and fight like heck.
Once I knew which road I was headed down, my natural instinct was to find out as much as possible about what I faced. Not the transplant process itself, there are tons of resources out there to learn all about that, including Be The Match, which offers plenty.
What I was looking for was how I was going to feel throughout the process. How sick do you get? How scary is it? How does it feel to be hospitalized that long? What was recovery like? What are the surprises?
I sought out other people who had already done a similar transplant. They could not have been more willing to share and offer hope. But what I came to eventually learn is that they sugar coated everything to make me feel better about what I was facing.
So the bottom line is that I went in not really understanding what I faced. One thing I decided to do was to keep a blog about my daily experiences. The purpose was to be able to communicate with all my family and friends about how I was making out without the burden of crushing amounts of texts, emails and phone calls.
To my shock, the 20 or 30 people I told to follow my blog turned into more than 200 people reading daily!
When I returned to normal life, what I heard is that reading the blog was like living through the transplant itself. Emotional, detailed, vulnerable and candid, but with a good attitude. Inadvertently, I had created the resource I wanted for myself! What is it like to have a bone marrow transplant and what can I expect? So the blog turned into a published book.
Now my friends have been giving a gift of the book to anyone they know who is facing a transplant and hearing back how much anxiety was reduced because the fear of the unknown disappeared. I won’t go so far as to say getting sick was worth it to create the book, but I am very glad to be able to give something back in return for all the medical professionals and other people who have allowed me to still be here today.
My goal is that anyone else facing what I did gets the chance to read the book “My Struggle with Cancer” and it helps them get to feeling a little less stressed and a lot more hopeful.
Don, leaving the hospital with his wife, Sheila.