Gene: Leukemia Survivor
Dedicated to tomorrow's freedom
I thought I had bronchitis but one night I couldn't sleep because my lungs felt like they were drowning. I went to the emergency room and later that night I was told I had leukemia. I knew it wasn't good. I didn't freak out because I was too sick to get crazy about it, but when I heard it was cancer I was scared.
The first time I went into the hospital I stayed for four and a half months. It was like the movie Groundhog Day. I didn't know what day it was or what time it was. Every day was the same and I was comfortable with it. My doctors had to get me into remission so I could have a bone marrow transplant. They used two different experimental chemotherapies on me, when the first one didn't work anymore, they went to the second one, which was the only other treatment they had at the time for my type of leukemia so if that didn't work, I was done. I had been in good shape before I got sick and basically that's what saved me. My sister was a perfect stem cell match and I finally had the transplant I needed.
I was in the hospital for so long that I couldn't walk. I couldn't write my name. It seemed like I would never get better, but I fought it. My girlfriend Tracy would go to work and I would vacuum the rugs. If I could only vacuum for three minutes, I did it. I did laundry, made the beds, washed the dishes. I continued to push myself to do anything I could and that's what helped to get me here now.
Six months after the first transplant I fell out of remission. At the time, I felt great. I thought I was all better- I had made it. So when they told me it was a shock. I didn't want to go back for a second transplant. Tracy and I were getting ready to go on vacation but my doctors warned against it. I thought about Tracy, my sons, and my family, and I knew I had to continue with more treatment.
When I went back into the hospital, I wanted nothing more then to go home. I tortured the nurses. I even tried to escape one night. I got out of bed and I was crawling along the wall when a nurse caught me and put me back in my room. Before my second transplant I had full body radiation for four days, twice a day. It took everything out of me. It was like the worst flu you have ever had in your life, multiplied by 100.
I had the second transplant in April of 2005 and I've been in remission since. I have neuropathy in my arms and legs from the chemotherapy and graft-versus-host-disease, but I feel good. I just finished mowing the lawn. My backyard is on a little bit of a grade and I could have used my tractor to mow it but I used the push mower because it works my legs.
I thought was going to die three separate times. It was a huge wakeup call. I was a wild man before, but now I think about other people's feelings. I care about life, about what's going on around me, and other people. If I could give advice to someone with cancer, I would tell them to fight it with everything they have.