Life with Leukemia

You’ve probably heard someone say that after being told really bad news – say an unfavorable medical diagnosis – that it felt like being punched in the gut. Well, in my case, the punch was literal and it happened three weeks before the bad news… 

It all began while celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with friends in 2010. After having failed to win a game of flip-cup for my team – I should mention that this was my first time ever playing – I was unexpectedly punch in the sternum by a dissatisfied, Ronda Rousey-esque, teammate. Next thing I knew I was regaining consciousness on the floor after losing my breath and passing out…

The next couple of weeks passed without much concern for the event, aside from dealing with a concussion from hitting my head on the table when I blacked-out,  I was focused on finishing up my first year of university. It wasn’t until passing on my bathroom floor first thing in the morning three weeks later that I decided maybe there was something more serious going on…

After a trip to the doctor, subsequent blood tests, a visit to the emergency department and a bone marrow biopsy, I was diagnosis with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (A.L.L.)… 

You may be asking yourself “what is Leukemia?” At the time I sure was, all I knew was that Leukemia was a cancer. Six years later, I can say that is no longer the case… 

To give you an outline of my life over the past six years, it has consisted of: one Leukemia diagnosis, three hip surgeries (two hip replacements), one relapse diagnosis and one stem cell transplant. 

Now you might be thinking “Wow that really sucks!” and you aren’t wrong, but shit happens and I don’t think I would change any of it. It has given me a much different perspective on life. As cliché as it sounds, I have learned to not sweat the small stuff and to always try and find the beauty in every day – I feel lucky to still be alive!      

Neill

Side note: 

As mentioned above, I was in need of a stem cell transplant as part of my treatment. Due to my specific type of cancer the doctors were unable to use my stem cells for the transplant, therefore a donor was needed. Normally, the search for a donor begins with siblings who share the same parents – this has the highest probability of being a match, at a measly 25%. Then, unless there is inter-familial breeding happening, doctors will search a worldwide data base for a potential match.        

I was fortunate enough to have an older sister who was a perfect match to be my donor (I should mention that she is my only sibling, how lucky is that!). However, many people in need of a transplant are not so fortunate, even those with multiple siblings cannot find a match… It is for this reason that I ask you (yes, you!) to consider becoming a member of the stem cell donor database. It is as easy as going online to register, receiving a test kit in the mail, swabbing the inside of your mouth and sending it back (you don’t even have to leave your house!). Having your information put into the database doesn’t necessarily mean that you will ever be asked to donate or that you are forced to donate if you do end up being a match for someone in need, it is entirely your decision at the time whether or not you wish to donate, the purpose is simply to increase the probability of finding a donor to help save someone’s life. 

You may also be hesitant at the thought of being stabbed in your lower back/pelvic bone with large needles to exact bone marrow if you ever did become a donor (or you may not have even thought of it until now… sorry!), no need to worry, today the majority of stem cell donations are collected using a technic that is as non-invasive as blood collection.

Again, I ask that you consider becoming a donor and to take a few more minutes out of your day to check out the following links to see how it all works. You may be able to save someone’s life! 

Canada: One Match – https://www.blood.ca/en/stem-cells 

United States: Be The Match – https://bethematch.org       

Australia: Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry – www.abmdr.org.au 

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