Myelodysplastic syndrome survivor: A stem cell transplant put me in remission

A routine physical exam in October 2015 changed my life. 

Doctors were alarmed by my low white blood cell count and wanted to monitor it on a monthly basis.  A few months later, blood tests showed a serious decline in red blood cells and platelets. 

A bone marrow biopsy revealed a high percentage of the stem cells in my bone marrow were cancerous and unable to mature into healthy blood cells.

The diagnosis was stage III myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone marrow disorder that can progress into acute myeloid leukemia.

The doctors said there was no cure for myelodysplastic syndrome and that my life expectancy without treatment was 13 months.  That’s devastating news for a husband, father and grandfather.

Seeking myelodysplastic syndrome expertise at MD Anderson

When the doctors at my local clinic explained the diagnosis, they said they could slow the progression of the disease, but suggested a second opinion at MD Anderson. 

MD Anderson’s expertise and reputation are well-known to Houston area residents like me. They have myelodysplastic syndrome specialists, so I was hopeful for a better outcome.

Confidence in my doctor’s myelodysplastic syndrome treatment recommendations

I had my first appointment at MD Anderson in April 2016 with Dr. Steven Kornblau. His background, demeanor and caring approach made me feel confident that I was in the right place. 

Dr. Kornblau recommended a clinical trial testing a chemotherapy combination of lirilumab and azacitidine. He said that might give me another three to five years.

If the cancer didn’t respond well to chemotherapy, I’d have one more option: a stem cell transplant. Dr. Kornblau’s plan provided a new sense of hope, and I was all in.

My initial myelodysplastic syndrome treatment: chemotherapy

It was a struggle, but my faith helped me accept that my time was short and face my fear of the unknown.

I began treatment in May 2016. The side effects felt like having the flu and a bad hangover at the same time. For a while, the chemotherapy worked. But after a year, tests showed the percentage of myeloblasts in my blood was rising again. This meant the chemotherapy drugs were no longer working.

A stem cell transplant put me in remission

It was time to consider the final option.  Dr. Kornblau recommended a stem cell transplant, and I was grateful to have one more chance.

I received my stem cell transplant on June 14, 2017. It required a month-long hospital stay, then two more months living within 15 minutes of MD Anderson for close monitoring. 

My care team supported me every step of the way.  And, three months after the transplant, they gave me some great news. The transplant was a success! I was in remission and cancer-free.

I will always have a significant chance of relapse. But two years later, I’m still cancer-free. I return to MD Anderson quarterly for doctors’ visits, lab work and bone marrow biopsies.

More time to appreciate life

Going to MD Anderson was one of the best decisions I have ever made. My stem cell transplant gave me more time to appreciate the beauty of life.

Despite the physical and emotional challenges I’ve faced over the last few years, I consider them the best years of my life.

I still live life one day at a time, but MD Anderson gave me many more to enjoy! And, I wouldn’t trade them for 20 more “normal” years.  

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789