Finding Blessings in My Battle With Leukemia

<img class="alignnone wp-image-35424 size-full" src="" alt=" Janie Magruder reflects on her diagnosis and treatment, including a crucial donation of stem cells from an unlikely source that saved his life. width = "805" height = "453" />

Janie Magruder reflects on her diagnosis of cancer and her treatment, including a crucial donation of stem cells from an unlikely source that helped save her life.

Written by Janie Magruder

I had to look like a deer caught in the headlights.

"You'll be fine," my nurse whispered after installing me in my hospital room at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona on February 20, 2016.

"It's a marathon – an ultra-marathon – but it's curable," reassured one of my doctors.

"We will help you get through this."

"This" was acute myeloid leukemia a blood cancer that I knew little about, and that, as risk factors go, I probably would not go. I was not old enough. (Most patients are at least 65 years old.) I had the wrong sex. (Men are more likely to be diagnosed with AML.) I did not have any other blood disorders. I had never been treated for an anterior cancer with radiotherapy or chemotherapy. I had not gone around benzene or other dangerous chemicals, and there had been no exposure to a nuclear reactor in the past. In fact, I had been so healthy all my life, I could count on one hand on the time when I had been hospitalized.

My husband, Jack, and I were shocked and terrified by the news. But it turned out that I was very blessed. Here's how …

My Faith

My parents raised me to believe in God, and I never lost that faith. I also believed that he had a plan for my life, that he was the ultimate healer and that he would never leave my side. Many nights in my hospital room, I clung to the "stone of Jesus" of my late mother, as she called him. It's just in the palm of my hand, as in his. I prayed a lot, and I had a team of prayer warriors in my family, in my church and in the country who prayed for me too. I clung to my faith.

My family and friends

A person with cancer does not know how to deal with it, any more than family members or friends. There is no training for such devastating news. What are you doing, saying, thinking? What should you read and what should you avoid?

That said, you would not have known that my husband, Jack, was not educated in providing care to cancer patients. From the beginning, Jack did not let him know how scared he was. He simply bravely continued. He continued to work. He took care of our house, our youngest son, and our two dogs. Jack did not stop showing himself. I do not know how he did it.

"No one diagnosed with cancer knows how to cope with it, any more than family members or friends, there is no training for such devastating news." – Janie Magruder

He and I agreed that we would take a whole day – sometimes an hour – at a time. He visited me every day, sometimes twice a day, and kept in touch with family members and friends. We promised that we would try to maintain a positive attitude to my treatment and recovery, not just to convince myself that everything was going to be fine, but also for our children.

Our three sons gave us fun texts and new snippets of their busy lives. For my birthday, which fell after three cycles of chemotherapy, they met at our home in Tempe. I was home from the hospital, and we played board games. I struggled with pleurisy at the time and I had to get up most of the time to make their less painful jokes laugh. My guys colored pages of coloring books with me – something that no one had kissed when they were young – and I hung the resulting art in my bedroom. hospital when I had to go back there.

My health

Mayo Clinic's reputation of being the best in the world, to focus on the patient and provide comprehensive care, is deserved. I have been so blessed by a team of hematologists, compassionate nurses and kind and accommodating staff members.

I met my primary hematologist, Dr. Jeanne Palmer on February 22, 2016. She wrote on the whiteboard in my room the details of my induction therapies and consolidation in which chemotherapy would be used to kill all the leukemic cells in my blood and my bone marrow. I watched this table a dozen times a day, trying to reassure myself about what was coming.

Dr. Palmer informed us that the best chance for my recovery was to have a stem cell transplant and we did not guess it. There would be more about this later, said Dr. Palmer. But for now, it was one day at a time. My first chemotherapy treatment started at 5:15 pm Wednesday, February 24th.

When side effects of chemotherapy hit, whether it was rashes or sores in the mouth or stomach pain, Mayo doctors arrived immediately to diagnose and treat . A Mayo ophthalmologist visited my hospital room on a Friday night to test my eyesight. An added bonus: he prayed for me after asking my permission. The nurses have demonstrated their dedication every day. There are really too many examples to include here, but a few stand out.

"I have been so blessed by a team of hematologists, compassionate nurses and warm, welcoming staff members." – Janie Magruder

My first room had a small window with just a ribbon view of a concrete courtyard below. When one of my nurses learned that my initial stay would be more than 30 days, she asked me if I wanted a room with a better view. I jumped on the occasion. The next morning, the nurse manager drove me into a room with a window pointed at the McDowell Mountains. I sat in front of this window for hours, watching the birds in the morning, the clouds rolling in the afternoon and the headlights of cars on the highway at night.

My nurses cheerfully cleaned me when I was sick, or when I was too weak to take a shower or go to the bathroom. They were attentive to my IV, and ultra-cautious with my infusions and my medication needs. Several posters on my wall were created by colleagues at the Grand Canyon University. They shared stories of being a graduate or registered at the GCU Nursing School. Some prayed to me, which meant everything.

When my long red hair began to fall on my pillow, a nurse gave me a mirror-cut buzz in my room so I could gradually get used to my baldness. They came when I called, and let me be when I needed them. They listened to Jack and our sons, offering warm blankets, crackers and juice, not just for me, but for them too.

I can not say enough good things about Mayo's staff. The chaplain's office offered spiritual guidance and blessed my transplant procedure. The young men who drove me in my wheelchair to various procedures and tests were kind and fun. The people who cleaned my room were respectful and kind. The business office patiently helped with the insurance, and the bone marrow transplant office gave us an extensive tutorial on how they could find me a donor.

After leaving the hospital on June 2, 2016, nurses and hospital infusion center staff treated me and my family with compassion, just like the doctors, nurse practitioners, phlebotomists, nurses and staff. Cancer Center .

My donor

Mayo Clinic worked to find the best stem cell donor peripheral for me, excluding first the members of his family and accessing Be the Match the national registry bone marrow. In early spring, we found a donor candidate. His selection was based on HLA, human leukocyte antigens, which are markers on most cells in a person's body. The immune system uses them to determine which cells belong to the body and which ones are not. My potential donor matched perfectly 10 HLA markers.

Following a series of tests that confirmed that he was in reasonably good health, my donor received injections to increase his hematopoietic cells. Later, he went to the hospital to have blood removed from one arm. The blood then passed through a machine that separated these hematopoietic cells. The remaining blood was returned to him by the other arm.

His bag of cells was transported to Phoenix, and, after a blessing ceremony by the chaplain, the contents were infused into the center line of my chest. About 100 days later, a blood test revealed that my donor's cells were thriving in my body.

For over a year, I knew very little about the young man who saved my life because of the confidentiality requirements of Be the Match that protect the patient and the donor. But last July, he agreed to share information, and that same month we talked on the phone. I did not know what to say, which does not happen often.

Jack Milligan, now 21, is a former Texas A & M University student at College Station, where he graduated in economics in the spring. He signed up for Be the Match in the fall of 2014 because it was the charitable cause of Delta Tau Delta, the fraternity for which he was committed.

"As I approach the 18th anniversary of my second chance at life, I am so grateful to God, my family and friends, my donor, and my Mayo Clinic. "- Janie Magruder

Jack, now president of Delta Tau Delta at A & M, told me recently that six other young men in the chapter have donated bone marrow to save lives, and dozens of other Aggie Delts have added their name to Be the Match. The Brotherhood's commitment to saving lives is so extraordinary that Be the Match plans to erect a billboard in the honor of Jack and his brothers later this year at College. Station.

"We are blessed, we are lucky," Jack said of his brotherhood. "It's really like there was some kind of magic."

Jack said that he was moved to donate his cells because of his mother.

"My mother is the most compassionate person I have ever met and I have learned to be more compassionate with her," he says. "If it happened to my mother, I would be devastated."

But I would like to know that someone was there who wanted and could save his life. Why would not you do that if you could? "

As I approach the 18 months of my second chance of life, I am so grateful to God, my family and friends, my donor, and my Mayo Clinic. Every day without cancer is a gift.


Tags: acute myeloid leukemia Cancer Dr. Jeanne Palmer Hematology Mayo Center for Oncology stem cell transplant


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