Celebrating life after a cord blood transplant

April 4 is just another day to most people. But to Erika Evans, it’s
an important one. This year, it marked the fifth anniversary of the
day she had a double umbilical cord blood transplant at MD Anderson for her acute myeloid leukemia (AML) treatment. And for
Erika, the fact that she’s still around for the milestone at all was
cause for celebration.

“When I was diagnosed, I was given very little hope of survival,”
Erika says. “I want people to know it’s possible not just to survive,
but to thrive and to live a healthy, wonderful life again.”

Spreading awareness about cord blood donations

When Erika had her own children about 20 years ago, cord blood
banking wasn’t an option. But today, she encourages other expectant
parents to donate their babies’ cord blood by sharing her
story at Lamaze classes. She also works closely with an international
nonprofit dedicated to finding tissue-type matches for blood cancer
patients seeking stem cell transplants.

“I can’t put into words how grateful I am to the parents who donated
their babies’ cord blood,” Erika says. “They didn’t just save my life;
they saved an entire family. Because of them, my kids still have their
mother, my mom still has her daughter, my sister still has her sibling
and my friends still have their buddy.”

Erika is also actively cultivating the next generation of cord blood
donors in her family. “I can guarantee that my kids will be donating
their babies’ cord blood when that day comes,” she says. “Cord blood
holds the promise of cures for so many horrific diseases.”

Sharing hope with others

In addition to her cord blood donation and stem cell registry
activities, Erika also finds great satisfaction in mentoring other
leukemia patients, some from as far away as Tanzania, Belgium and Jordan.

“I get contacted by people from all over the world and share my story almost daily,” Erika says. “I try to
reassure them that even though it seems like a longshot, and it’s such
a hard process, a stem cell transplant is absolutely worth the fight.
Before you know it, you’ll be one, two, three years post-transplant
and realize that you did it.”

As someone who has watched a close family member succumb to leukemia
and a survivor herself, Erika feels uniquely qualified to offer other
cancer patients and their families encouragement.

“I’ve been in both situations, so I can truly relate to their pain,”
she says. “I know what it’s like to look out a hospital window and
just wish you were anyone else. One day you’re healthy and living
life, and the next you’re in total isolation, fighting to survive.”

Not sweating the small stuff

Erika’s experiences have also given her a much deeper appreciation
for life’s little everyday miracles.

“I don’t sweat the small stuff,” she says. “Before, I would wake up
and get caught up in the hustle of the day and material things that
didn’t matter. Now, I feel the wind, listen to the birds, smell the
flowers, feel the sun and just thank God for another day. It’s much
easier to appreciate when you’ve been on the 16th floor of a hospital,
looking out a window in total isolation.”

Advice for other stem cell transplant recipients

The one thing Erika wants other cancer patients to know is that it’s
absolutely possible to get through a stem cell transplant and come out
on the other side successfully.

“I’ve been there, and you’re going to get through this,” she says.
“Medicines have come a long way, even since my transplant. You’re
going to live again. You’re going to be healthy, and it’s going to be
amazing. It just takes time.”

Time is on Erika’s mind now more than ever, after reaching such a
significant milestone.

“I remember begging God for just five more years. Just five more
years to see my kids graduate,” she says. “You can rest assured that
after hitting that anniversary, I’ve renegotiated the deal. I plan to
live an extremely long and happy life.”

Learn about donating umbilical cord blood to the MD Anderson Cord
Blood Bank

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