I am a cancer survivor and a fan of the people who dedicate their lives to fighting cancer. It took a great deal of time before I got comfortable with the idea of sharing my journey with the broader public. On my journey, I was exposed to some wonderful people who shared in my experiences. It is the charitable spirit of one particular person and the unfortunate loss of two very special friends that motivated me to write this article. I was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) in January of 2017. I was in disbelief when I received the initial diagnosis from my doctor. As a healthy and active African-American man who never smoked or drank alcohol I was stunned to learn that I had MDS. My wife and I immediately sought second and third opinions from other MDS specialists. My wife and I traveled from coast-to-coast in search of an answer that would assure us of a positive outcome. Because of the uncertainties associated with cancer in general there were no reassuring answers. Each specialist that I spoke with confirmed my initial diagnosis and politely proceeded to explain all of the treatment options available to me. The most comforting aspect of my consultations with each specialist was their acknowledgement of the medical advancements that had been made in the area of MDS. It was clear to me that I needed to identify a viable donor so that I could undergo a bone marrow transplant.
My wife and I agreed that I would begin treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC).
Initially, I worked with the wonderful team at MSKCC. Once the coronavirus spread throughout New York City, my wife and I decided that it would be in my best interest to transfer to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) in Nashville, Tennessee. The transplant team at VUMC welcomed me with open arms. The doctors, nurses, and administrative staff provided me with the information and support that I needed in order to navigate the transplant process. The transplant team at VUMC notified me that a donor had been identified. The time had come to move forward with the bone marrow transplant. I do not know if I was more nervous about the bone marrow transplant or relocating halfway across the country. Nevertheless, my wife and I made the move to Nashville and I immediately started chemotherapy. After undergoing chemotherapy, the donor’s stem cells had arrived and the bone marrow transplant was performed.
Now that I am more than one year removed from my transplant the motivation for this article is the selflessness of my donor and the unfortunate loss of two special friends who were battling cancer, too. As a father and a grandfather, it was difficult to talk to my family about me not possibly being around in the future. The actions of one human being not only changed my outlook on life but changed the future outlook for those who depend on me. It is because of the actions of someone who recognized the importance of being a donor that I am in a position to share my story. The actions of my donor serve as a highlight in my story, but not everyone on my journey fared as well as I did. In the past year, I lost two very special friends who passed away during their battles with cancer. The loss of these two very special friends is a stark reminder that there is more work to be done in the fight against cancer. It is my pledge to serve as a voice in the African-American community for those who are currently battling cancer, as well as for those who might be faced with this terrible disease in the future. It is my intention to use this article as a plea to encourage individuals of color to consider becoming donors. I dedicate this article to my donor, my colleague’s wife, and my former mentor and friend.