Hardly anything can get in the way of John Kosmatka’s passion for
running. Even after he underwent prostate cancer surgery in March 2015, the avid
runner competed in the Boston Marathon one month later.
“My doctor said, ‘Why’d you run Boston? I told you not to,’ and I
said, ‘It’s what a runner does when he’s that dedicated to his
sport,’” John recalls.
Until last year, John participated in four marathons and at least 15
half-marathons each year. Then he noticed a sudden change. Just a few
weeks after beating his personal record in a 20K Independence Day
race, John couldn’t run more than 2 miles.
“I’m very lucky I’ve been a runner,” he says. “If I’d been a couch
potato, I’d be sitting there thinking, well, I think I feel bad
because of old age, not knowing that I had leukemia.”
Seeking second opinions for acute myeloid leukemia
John, then age 67, had actually become suspicious about his health
after blood work taken during an annual physical revealed his
abnormally low white blood cell count. A hematologist repeated the
blood test twice and ordered a bone marrow biopsy when he got the same
results. In October 2016, John found out he had acute myeloid leukemia.
“The doctor didn’t even tell me to come in. He said, ‘I hate to tell
you this, but I’ll admit: we can’t handle this diagnosis. I suggest
you go to a place that specializes in your disease,’” John recalls.
So the Valparaiso, Indiana, resident drove 40 miles east to a
Chicago hospital and started chemotherapy. But during his second round of
treatment, John suffered a stroke and was hospitalized for 15 days.
His medical team suggested he stop chemotherapy and undergo an umbilical cord blood transplant instead.
Hesitant, John sought a second opinion at another hospital in
December. That doctor suggested he stick with chemotherapy.
But his daughter, who’d learned about MD
Anderson during her online research, encouraged her dad to
travel to Houston to seek a third opinion. So in January, he met with
Tapan Kadia, M.D.
“We found out that Dr. Kadia is the one who does all the research
and writes all the abstracts that the other hospitals use for their
research – they piggyback off of the papers he writes,” he says. “Once
I learned that and met him, I said, ‘My mind’s made up. I’m going to
do whatever he wants.’”
Acute myeloid leukemia treatment at MD Anderson
Kadia also suggested that John remain on chemotherapy. He completed
three more rounds of a high-dose chemotherapy cocktail, which included
cytarabine combined with fludarabine and granulocyte colony
stimulating factor. Though he experienced no side effects, John scaled
back his rigorous physical activity regimen, which once included 58
miles of running every week.
“When Dr. Kadia gave me his advice to stop running, I took it
because I’d established this scientific rapport with him. I did
everything that he suggested to the letter,” he says.
John finished his last chemotherapy in April, and when he returned
to MD Anderson a month later, he learned
that his leukemia was no longer detectable.
Returning to running after leukemia
“I felt like jumping up and down celebrating. I’ve had a terrific,
happy feeling ever since May 17,” he says. “Words can’t describe how
good I feel.”
John now returns to MD Anderson every
three months for follow-up tests, and has his sights set on the 2017
New York City marathon in November. He may not beat his 2014 Chicago
Marathon record, in which he finished 12th of out the 198
runners in his age group, but he’s OK with that.
“I’m still improving since my diagnosis, and that’s all that really
matters,” he says.
He hopes his story encourages other people to get a second – or even
third – opinion if they’re uncomfortable with the medical advice
they’re given. He also encourages other patients to come to MD Anderson.
“Even though I live in northwest Indiana, the trip to Houston was
well worth the extra time and expense,” he says. “I chose MD Anderson because it’s the top cancer
hospital in the country. Everyone I dealt with — from those who serve
the food to those who park the cars to Dr. Kadia and his team —
always had a positive and supporting attitude.”
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