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My acute myeloid leukemia journey: The people who helped

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Gerard Neumann acute myeloid leukemia AML

by Gerard Neumann

When I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), everyone wanted to help. All of my children rallied to my aid. Seeing their dad beat this thing was important to them.

My son Chris, recently married with a newborn and doing his medical school residency in Houston, opened his small apartment to me so that I would have a place to stay.

When my wife could not go with me to doctor's appointments, Chris or one of my other children went with me to make sure I did not miss something important the doctor said about my AML. 

My siblings: Potential stem cell transplant donors
My siblings also wanted to help. Our parents taught us that charity begins at home, and my siblings proved that a home is not limited by four walls. All six went to be tested to be the donor for my stem cell transplant.

My sister, Terry, started a diet because she heard there were weight requirements.

My brother Robert, wheelchair-bound with a form of dystrophy, wanted to be my donor if he matched. He was ready to get in his van and drive the nearly 900 miles from Albuquerque to Houston.

It was my brother Ed who matched, though. As children we had never gotten along. But he put his life on hold and flew to Houston at his expense to give me his stem cells. 

Unexpected help from total strangers
But it was not just family that helped.

Before I got my stem cell transplant, I was in a protective environment, where I'd been receiving chemotherapy. When the nurse came to check on me one evening, I noticed that my wedding band -- the one my wife had given me for our 25th anniversary four years earlier -- was missing from my finger.

I panicked. But the nurse remained calm and began helping me look. The first place she went to was the dirty towels hamper in my room. She started taking towels out, and I heard something clink on floor. It was my ring.

This was just one of many times where total strangers came to my aid at MD Anderson.

A much-needed show of concern before my stem cell transplant
The morning before I checked in for my stem cell transplant, I visited the hospital chapel to pray. As I sat there, I broke down but tried to hide my pain. I did not think anyone would notice.

However, a couple of people did. They came and put their arms around me to comfort me. Their show of concern could not have come at a better moment.

The angel who came to calm me
One evening shortly after I was admitted for my transplant, a nurse came in to hook up my chemo. She must have sensed my worry because she took the time to tell me a story about a young man she had met on a cruise who was celebrating his "first" birthday. She said she knew he had to be a stem cell survivor.

In the many inpatient days that followed that encounter, she was never my nurse again. I wonder if she might have been an angel who came to calm me.

More helpers than I can name
I could go on about all the people who helped me when I was sick: the mother-in-law of a stem cell patient who went around helping all the patients, the chaplain who'd handed me a box of Kleenex and let me cry it out, the stem cell center staff who took the time to listen as I rambled.

And, of course, there was the stranger outside the pharmacy who'd gathered her friends around me and prayed for my continued health after I'd told her I'd just learned that I was cancer-free. That was six months after my stem cell transplant.

Gerard Neumann pillow

The unexpected part of my AML journey
One of the cards I received when I was first diagnosed with AML had a message about cancer being a journey. I had never thought of it that way, and that message stuck.

What I couldn't have anticipated, though, was how many people -- many of them total strangers -- would become a part of that journey and help make it easier.

As a cancer survivor, I now feel a responsibility to reach out and help anyone in need. It might be a cancer patient, or it may just be someone I see who is in need. It may be someone I like, or someone I cannot stand.

I have been blessed with a life that I thought was near its end three years ago. My faith tells me to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. Now it is more like doing unto others as I have had done unto me.

Read more blog posts by Gerard Neumann

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