Leukemia survivor finds second chance — and third wife — at MD Anderson

Two-time widower Paul Nielsen was in excellent health at age 67. So
the former marathon runner knew something was wrong when he started
feeling tired all the time in the fall of 2015.

“I had to nap for a couple of hours almost every afternoon,” he
says. “I couldn’t even make it to supper.”

Though concerned by his fatigue, Paul put off investigating it until his
regular annual physical in January 2016. That’s when blood tests
revealed he had acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of blood cancer.

“I wasn’t really shocked,” he says. “We were looking for something
and that was it, so we just needed to get on it.”

Finding the right leukemia treatment

Paul’s local doctor didn’t treat leukemia, so he got a referral to MD Anderson. It was here that Paul met Stefan Ciurea, M.D. — and found his future wife.

Ciurea confirmed Paul’s acute myeloid leukemia diagnosis, then
recommended a mild form of chemotherapy. It was not as effective as they’d
hoped, so Ciurea switched Paul to a more aggressive form of
chemotherapy. Paul received five rounds of it, followed by an
allogeneic stem cell transplant.

‘We’re supposed to be together’

The woman who would eventually become Paul’s third wife was already
a professional friend of his in the oil and gas industry. He’d
actually known Cyndi – whose husband had died suddenly just a few
months earlier – for about 10 or 15 years. “But I think God put us in
each other’s lives,” Paul says of their connecting through his leukemia treatment.

A mutual friend dragged Cyndi to MD Anderson
in June explicitly to pray for Paul’s recovery. Cyndi and Paul
kept running into each other at group lunches and benefit functions,
and began dating in February 2017. The couple became exclusive in
March 2017, and tied the knot on a Florida beach on June 30, Cyndi’s birthday.

“I had no hair when we started courting, but Cyndi said she didn’t
care,” Paul recalls. “She said I looked handsome with or without it.
So I think we’re supposed to be together.”

‘My life didn’t stop because of leukemia’

Paul is also convinced that God led him to MD Anderson.

“My wife and I are people of faith, and we believe physical and
spiritual healing go hand in hand,” Paul says. “MD Anderson is that kind of place. First of
all, it is the No. 1 cancer center in the world. This is the
place in the universe to be if you have cancer. But it’s also special.
It’s personalized care, research and treatment, all in one. It’s not
like going to a governmental bureaucracy, where you’re just a number.”

Side effects didn’t slow him down

Aside from hair loss, Paul suffered a number of other side effects during treatment, including insomnia and nausea so severe that he dropped 30 pounds. But
his stem cell transplant on Nov. 23, 2016, was a success, and today,
more than a year later, he shows no evidence of disease.

Paul often shares his story with others, including patients at MD Anderson, to inspire them and offer them
hope in their own trials in life.

“I still get tired sometimes, but nothing like before,” says the
newlywed. “And I’m not sick or limited today at all, though I am still
recovering. My life didn’t stop because of leukemia. It didn’t even
slow down.”

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