Leukemia diagnosis brings survivor, daughter closer than ever

Dana MacFarlane may have been the one who received a leukemia diagnosis, but she’s certain every one
of her family members suffered just as much during her treatment.
Still, she chooses to see the good that’s come out of her journey.

“I’m closer to everyone in my family due to this cancer,” she says.

That’s been especially true for her relationship with her oldest
daughter, professional pole vaulter Demi Payne.

“We’ve always been close, but now there’s just a different type of
closeness,” Demi says.

Dana, 48, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in July 2017. Her husband
Craig needed to return to East Texas to work and care for their two
teenage daughters, Blake and MacKenzie, so Demi, 26, paused her
training for the 2020 Olympic Team Trials to care for her mother.

“As much as she says she needed me to be with her, I need to be here
with her just the same amount,” says Demi. “My mom has always been
that person for me — she was always pushing me to succeed and always
so encouraging to me, and it was awesome that I got to stay here for
two weeks and be that for her.”

Reasons to smile during stem cell transplant recovery

Dana underwent a stem cell transplant on Nov. 1, 2017. During her
recovery, Demi cheered up her mom by snapping silly pictures and
videos, and sharing them with the thousands of friends and supporters
who follow her on social media.

“She’d come and crawl in bed with me, and she’s like, ‘C’mon, Mama,
we need to take a selfie!’ So we’d take a picture, and then she’d say,
‘No, Mom, you’re going to have to smile bigger.’ Then she wanted to
take a picture of me sprinting in the hallway, and she made me do it
like 10 times so she could get the perfect shot,” Dana recalls,
laughing. “She kept pushing me beyond my comfort zone. No one else was
going to do that, but she made me do it. Not only did it bring
cheerfulness, it made me smile when I didn’t want to smile.”

Support provides motivation

Even though the world got to see the lighter side of Dana’s stem
cell transplant, there were many dark hours, too. Dana suffered from
nausea, diarrhea, thrush and fatigue for days at a time. But the support she
and Demi received from around the world motivated both of them to push through.

“The feedback that I got back was insane,’” Demi says. “I’d have
people from Israel messaging me, saying that they’re praying for my
mom and for me and my family – people that I don’t even know.”

Gratitude for every moment with her daughter

Dana was released from the hospital 20 days after her stem cell
transplant. Despite the pain she endured, she’s grateful for the
impact that her treatment has left on her relationship with her
daughter and the rest of her family.

“I think the Lord has taught us how to number our days in that when
we are in today, and that’s all we’re promised,” she says. “It makes
every moment that I spend with Demi more passionate, more real. It
works that way with everyone.”

As for Demi, this experience has taught her to never take her loved
ones for granted.

“I look at it differently now. Just like when you get in fights with
your mom, and you don’t talk to her for however long it is – we’ve
done that before, and this changes everything. The next time we’re mad
at each other, it’ll be for maybe 10 minutes. We won’t let it last,”
Demi says. “I don’t want to stay mad at anyone. I don’t want to miss
out on the opportunity to love someone because life can change.”

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