By Gerard Neumann
It saved my life. But before I underwent the stem cell transplant as part of my acute myeloid leukemia (AML) treatment, I had seriously considered backing out.
My AML treatment plan
A stem cell transplant was not what I'd been hoping for. I'd hoped that the clinical trial I was on as part of my AML treatment would put me in remission.
However, that was not to be. So my leukemia doctor at MD Anderson sent me to the stem cell unit for a transplant.
When I landed at the airport in Houston to go meet with a stem cell doctor at MD Anderson, I met a man and told him why I was there. Like many I met on my AML journey, he encouraged me and said I would be in his prayers.
Afterwards, I went to MD Anderson for final testing and an appointment with Chitra Hosing, M.D., professor in Stem Cell Transplant and Cellular Therapy. I told her my concerns about the transplant, and she reassured me. She never pressed me to go forward, but she talked about windows of opportunity. I was in remission, albeit incomplete, and remission was the time for a stem cell transplant. I left her office ready to move forward.
Second thoughts about my stem cell transplant
The next Saturday, my daughter-in-law, Ali, and I got in the car to drive to the hospital for my transplant.
About halfway there I got a call from the sister of a friend I had made at the transfusion unit. Her brother, Jesus, was a leukemia patient, like me. I had been jealous of him because he'd gotten his treatment and gone home to El Paso to recover. I had really thought that is what I would be doing, too.
Jesus' sister told me that he died from chemo poisoning. The call could not have come at a worse time. I could no longer think about myself. This woman had just lost her brother. He'd left behind two young children and a wife.
I wondered if this might be a sign. He'd died of chemo poisoning. I was about to undergo massive chemo to administer my stem cell transplant. Was I going to meet the same fate? I told Ali my concerns.
Ali dropped me off in front of the hospital. I told her not to come in because my 5-month-old grandson was asleep in the car. I then told her I would call her if I changed my mind.
Finding my resolve
I stood in front of the hospital doors not knowing what to do. A call home to my wife relieved some of my fears, but I was still apprehensive.
As I thought about it, it became clear to me that going home was not an option. I had been home for visits. Every other day was spent at the transfusion unit of the local hospital. My platelet count hovered between 10 and 15 unless I got a transfusion, and my red cell count was not much better. I turned and walked through doors with resolve.
I would check in. I would face this bravely, heeding the words of my oldest brother, my stem cell donor, who told me how I acted would impact my children.
In the morning, I asked my doctor about chemo poisoning. He just chuckled and reassured me. Two of my children came to see me that day, and I held my tears in check as I assured them that Dad was going to be okay.
And three years later, I am. I know with some certainty that I would not be here had I walked away from this life saving transplant. The stranger I had met at the airport will never know that his prayers, and the prayers of many others, for me were answered.
Read more posts by Gerard Neumann
AML is one of the cancers MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about our AML/MDS Moon Shot.