I worked as an automobile salesperson at a very large dealership. On this particular morning everything changed, from zero to one hundred miles per hour. It all began when I started to sweat uncontrollably and was immediately rushed to the emergency room. After blood tests, X-rays and a CT scan, I learned that I had a “very large mass” in my chest. Worse – the mass was attached to my aorta so surgery was not an option. My official diagnosis was ALL, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, an extremely rare form of Leukemia.
After about 6 months of intense chemotherapy that left me hospitalized and bald, my cancer came back. The only possible cure for me would be a “stem cell transplant.” By now, we had gotten to be a little better educated with a lot of help from our team of doctors and nurses. So honestly, without question, we said yes to this procedure even though there were so many risks involved, including death. It was a chance that we had to take. Next step was to find a stem cell donor. First, my two brothers were tested to see if they were a match, no luck. So we had to go through a registry where we did find a 10 out of 10 match. Awesome!
The week of my transplant was another rough week of chemo to prepare my body for the transplant. I was so nervous that something would happen to the new stem cells from my donor until they finally arrived. Well, they arrived in a bag that looked like blood and over the next hour, I was infused with new hope. Spent another 6 weeks in the hospital as I waited for the new baby stem cells to grow in my bone marrow.
Over the next 100 days I had follow up appointments which many times included blood transfusions and platelet transfusions. Afterwards, down to once a week as my body got stronger. After 100 days, it was confirmed that I was in remission! YAY!!! Definitely worth all risks as we had two daughters graduating from college and the youngest from high school. My donor gave me this gift to be here for this!
Seven months later, I ended up in the ER where I found that I had a blood clot in my arm. I had a really weird feeling that I expressed to my oncologist, so he decided to do some tests. Damn! The cancer was back! Now What? There were no options. I already had a transplant. We were referred to palliative care at this point which is kind of like hospice. No way was I ready for this. I’m only 51.
Great news came about a week later. I am a good candidate for a second transplant from an entirely different donor. So back to the drawing board. I had my second transplant and this one was much harder on my body and with a lot more complications. I do not remember most of it because I encountered severe delirium. Anything that could go wrong did. My kidneys shut down, family was called in because the doctors didn’t think I would make it through the night. I lost the use of my legs during the transplant, I think. All I knew is that I could walk one day, then not the next.
So, now we have a name for why I may not be walking (besides the muscle atrophy from being bed bound for 4 months.) It’s a rare autoimmune disease called Transverse Myelitis. While in the hospital, I received a treatment called Plasma Exchange which, I believe, helped me start to move my legs little by little again. I am currently going through physical therapy to hopefully regain walking again.
I’m not sure what my “new normal” will be, but before this craziness, my husband Chris and I both worked jobs we enjoyed and liked to take trips likes cruises while also enjoying our pool for staycations. We have 4 amazing daughter’s and great families that have been even more supportive than ever. We have also been involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society over the past 6 years- what a coincidence, right?
Please consider donating to Chris Reiber’s Man of the Year Fundraising Page: https://pages.mwoy.org/noh/cle19/creiber