How a myelodysplastic syndrome survivor found strength

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rani422.jpgBy Logan Carver

Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) survivor Rani Kabra and her husband, Tej, cried as they crossed the finish line together at the 2014 BP MS 150 bike ride on April 13.

When Rani received her MDS diagnosis in 1998, the couple thought their days together were numbered. They never dreamed they'd one day pedal a tandem bicycle 150 miles from Houston to Austin. 

But the same positive attitude that empowered Rani to beat cancer 16 years ago pushed her over the hilly highways to the Texas state capital.

"It was like a dream come true," Rani says. "I felt like I was on the top of the world. I want to thank all my doctors, family, friends and the whole staff at MD Anderson. I felt an unbelievable sense of accomplishment."

Rani's MDS diagnosis
Rani first started experiencing MDS symptoms in September 1997, but she didn't think they were indicative of cancer.

Heavy periods lasting 10 to 12 days prompted her gynecologist to treat her for early menopause. She started a regimen of hormone pills, which stabilized her, but she became cripplingly ill a few months later. Multiple courses of antibiotics did nothing to allay the symptoms, and she began bruising excessively at the slightest bump. By March, it had become too much.

"I was so weak my boss at work said, 'I think it's time to go to the doctor, and if they won't see you, you better go to the emergency room,'" Rani recalls.

Rani's paper-white hands alarmed her doctor, and he ordered on-the-spot blood tests. She was diagnosed with a type of MDS. After several recommendations from friends, she and Tej decided to come to MD Anderson for a second opinion.

 "If there was one place where this could have been conquered, it was MD Anderson," Tej says.

Rani began her MDS treatment here in late March. She began chemotherapy, but after several treatments, her cancer still persisted.

She decided to undergo an allogeneic stem cell transplant. Three of her sisters were matches, and her youngest sister provided the stem cells that would save Rani's life. After her stem cell transplant, she was cancer-free.

Finding optimism during MDS treatment
Rani and Tej fell apart when they received her MDS diagnosis.

"When I first heard, I thought she was going to die," Tej says. "I thought I was going to lose her."

Even through 21 days of isolation during her stem cell transplant, she made the conscious decision to stay positive. She drew inspiration from her family and was proud to say she was fighting cancer.

"I'd rather laugh and not cry," Rani says. "I choose to laugh in tough times."

Now, nearly 16 years after her MDS treatment, she uses that positive energy to conquer new obstacles.

The ride of a lifetime
Rani has always been active, but wasn't sure her gym routine would be enough to propel her and Tej -- who had participated in four previous MS 150s -- on a bike ride that is longer than many of the stages in the Tour de France.

Rani and Tej began routinely riding 20 to 30 miles around their neighborhood and used visits to see their son in San Antonio as a way to get in some much-needed hill training. Still, they weren't sure they'd actually go through with something that would be grueling for any athlete.
But Tej told Rani to focus the positivity she used to beat cancer to get her through the race. If she was mentally prepared, her body would follow.

As the two drew near the finish line, they were overcome with emotion. Thoughts turned to Rani's cancer, her treatment and how fortunate they were to be able to ride together all these years later.

"At that moment, I felt, 'she is absolutely as normal as every other human being,'" Tej says. And although it was her legs that pushed her past the finish line, she knew it was a team effort -- 16 years in the making.

MDS is one of the cancers MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn about our AML/MDS Moon Shot.

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