Let me tell you how I ‘met’ Beth. I was at the Blood and Marrow Transplant clinic in Atlanta waiting for my appointment and met a friendly woman who said she was waiting for her daughter. She told me to look at her daughter’s Facebook profile which chronicles her journey from a bone marrow transplant due to leukemia. So about a week later, I looked at Beth’s Second Battle on Facebook and read we share a few similarities…
–both former ICU nurses
–both diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
–both had bone marrow/stem cell transplant
When you face a life-threatening and life-altering illness or tragedy in your life, it changes you to your very core. For some, bitterness and anger may ensue. For others, like Beth Wilson, it results in gratefulness and love of life. For Beth, she is alive and living her best possible life because of her donor found through BeTheMatch.org.
Do you have it in you to save someone’s life – literally? Well, you now have the opportunity. At the end of Beth’s story, a link to Be The Match is provided. You may be saving someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, grandparent, BFF, mentor, hero.
And PLEASE share this post to all your social media circles.
Here is Beth’s story:
“I was diagnosed with cancer for the first time when I was 26 years old. I had adenocarcinoma of the small intestine. It’s a rare cancer but when it occurs, it’s usually in males over 50. The small intestine is a hard place to find cancer. Often when it’s found, it is in the late stages. Mine had progressed through the wall of my intestine by a millimeter. This made the cancer stage two. I had surgery to remove the tumor and also a small section of my small intestine. They also removed several lymph nodes to see if cancer had spread. All lymph nodes were negative. Despite this good news, my cancer was still a stage two and stage two required six months of chemo. I was very lucky this was all I needed. Most cancer patients aren’t this lucky. I did my six months of chemotherapy, followed up with my oncologist for five years and moved on with my life.
Seven years later, I had gotten married, moved from Alabama to Georgia, stopped seeing my oncologist and was living a normal life, confident in having reached my five-year survival goal. I went in to see my gynecologist one day, just after my 33rd birthday, because I had been having frequent, painful periods. She and I both attributed this to the IUD that I was using for birth control. She did an ultrasound, the IUD was normal. She also checked my blood to see if I was anemic. Two days later, as I was on my way to celebrate my birthday with my parents, my GYN called to give me the results. As expected, I was slightly anemic. More concerning than the anemia was that I had critically low neutrophils. Everything else was normal. My GYN had already consulted a hematologist, Dr. Solh, and he wanted me to come into the ER and have my labs repeated.
As a seasoned ICU nurse, I knew a low neutrophil count was bad. A quick Google search told me I either had leukemia, HIV/AIDS, or a virus. I prayed hard and fast for a virus. But it was leukemia. I knew in my gut what it was as soon as I saw that option. Dr. Solh confirmed it later that day in the ER. A bone marrow biopsy the next day told us that I had Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). AML is aggressive and, according to Wikipedia, “fatal within weeks or months if left untreated.” One of the risk factors is having previously taken chemotherapy. That was the only risk factor I had. What had once saved my life could now potentially kill me.
After more tests, Dr. Solh told me my best option was a bone marrow transplant. We would need to find a 100% match. As an only child, I didn’t have siblings to test and it was unlikely that one of my relatives would be a complete match. Each parent was tested, but, as predicted, they were only 50% matches. We could use them, but the success rate wouldn’t be as high. Instead, we looked to Be The Match for an unrelated match. Within a month, we had not one, but two, 100% matches. After hearing about other patients, I now know how unlikely that is. My transplant was scheduled for December.
Unfortunately, in December, I caught something, a virus or a bacteria, we still don’t know for sure. And, being as immunocompromised as I was, within hours I became septic. I went from being an ICU nurse to being an ICU patient. I was on the ventilator, my organs were shutting down, I was on full life support for about five days. But I pulled through. I came off the ventilator and was moved out to the Blood and Marrow Transplant Unit. A place that became a second home for me, my husband and my parents. It was a tough, awful time for us all. I had to regain my strength, my ability to care for myself, feed myself. Just days before Christmas, I was discharged home. I had a walker. I could barely move in bed. Life was hard. But with the help of my family and the staff at BMTU and BMTGA, I pushed through.
I walked, slowly but without a walker, into the hospital on January 21, 2016 to receive my bone marrow transplant. An anonymous, 21-year-old woman from Germany went under anesthesia to have about half a gallon of her marrow removed, to donate to me. Knowing that someone else suffered to save your life is a humbling experience, to say the least.
Donors now don’t have to donate via their marrow anymore. They can peripherally donate stem cells instead. For certain reasons that I can’t recall, my team of doctors requested that my donor donate her marrow directly, not peripherally. She agreed, even though she knew it would be a more painful and more invasive procedure. Within hours of her donation, a team flew the marrow from Germany to Atlanta, Georgia, USA for me. Less than 24 hours later, I received the transplant.
The transplant was a success! I am almost three years out. I have had plenty of Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD) and the road to recovery has felt long and hard. The GVHD started in my mouth with sores. I was hospitalized and put on IV fluids because I could barely swallow. Next, it was gastrointestinal. It felt as if I had a stomach virus for six months. I had uncontrollable nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. I was hospitalized countless times. I was placed on immunosuppressant therapy. I had to continue to be isolated. I couldn’t go out in public. My environment consisted of my house and the hospital. A month before coming off immunosuppressants, I was diagnosed with skin GVHD. It caused a red rash to appear on my arms and legs. It was very minor in the grand scheme of things. GVHD of the skin left untreated can cause horrific changes in the body though. Two months after coming off immunosuppressants, I was diagnosed with musculoskeletal GVHD. This required a year of chemotherapy to control. I took the first dose and had a strong reaction to it. My chest felt tight and my heart pounded. I had trouble breathing. It was terrifying. Unfortunately, that was my best option for treatment. The nurses heavily premedicated me and I took the treatment for a year. My GVHD is now in remission as well.
My journey has been filled with ups and downs and tons of medications and blood products. I could not have done it without my support system of family and friends, the incredible staff at BMTGA and the countless people that donated blood products for me, especially my beautiful, selfless, bone marrow donor.
It is vitally important for every leukemia patient to receive platelet, blood and plasma transfusions during their treatment. Even those patients that don’t receive a bone marrow transplant still need blood products. The chemo that blood cancer patients receive completely wipes out their white blood count. It also decreases the overall blood count and the platelets. We need blood products from donors to survive. The Blood and Marrow Transplant Group of GA has Atlanta Blood Services that provides blood products specifically for blood cancer patients. We are all so very grateful to the staff and donors that make that possible.
Recently I was able to contact my bone marrow donor via email. She is absolutely amazing and I thanked her profusely, but can you ever thank someone enough for saving your life? We keep in touch through Facebook and Instagram and we are looking forward to the day we can meet in person. For us, that day will be this coming March!! My husband surprised me on my birthday with airline tickets to Germany! My donor and I are very excited to finally see each other in person.
There is no way for me to contact all the donors that gave me blood, platelets, and plasma. They helped save my life too. Every day I am grateful for the life that I have and all the many people that have made this life possible.”
Be The Match…click here to learn more and join the bone marrow registry.
Other ideas to get involved is by volunteering or heading up a donor registry drive at your high school, college, work or local community fairs.