Haploidentical stem cell transplant survivor: Cancer, you never had a chance

One of the first features you notice about Travis Arnold is his wide
smile. And, Travis has every reason to beam. He graduated this past
May in the top 2% of his high school class and looks forward to
attending The University of Texas at Austin in the fall.

Thanks to a haploidentical stem cell transplant, he’s also
celebrating his third year with no evidence of disease after a cancer
diagnosis at age 12.


A myelodysplastic syndrome diagnosis, then acute myeloid leukemia

In 2011, Travis returned home from summer camp and wasn’t feeling
well. While this didn’t stop him from playing in a weekend baseball
tournament, his illness lingered well after the final game. “I went to
the doctor thinking it was a simple cold,” Travis says. But after some
tests, he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a precursor to leukemia.

“At first, I thought, ‘Why me?’” Travis says. “Then I quickly found
out that I could beat this disease.”

But there were challenges.

He received a stem cell transplant from a “perfect match”
donor shortly after his MDS diagnosis. A year later, Travis relapsed
and his MDS evolved to acute myeloid leukemia. He endured multiple
rounds of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and another failed stem cell
transplant before his family came to MD Anderson Children’s
Cancer Hospital
.

Third time’s a charm with haploidentical transplant

At MD Anderson, Travis received a haploidentical transplant — also called a
half-match transplant. Whereas most allogeneic stem cell transplants
require a donor who’s a perfect or nearly perfect match, a
haploidentical transplant only requires the donor to be a half-match.
This meant Travis’ father, Todd, could serve as his donor. Using his
father’s stem cells, Travis received his third transplant on April 25, 2014.

The Arnold family felt they had run out of options, but this new
approach provided hope. “I wasn’t too sure about the half-match
transplant at first,” Travis says, “but when I found out it was my dad
who was donating, I felt good. I was already so much like him.”  

Throughout his treatment, the fierce competitor and sports
enthusiast refused to let leukemia sideline him. He brought a
stationary bicycle into his hospital room and committed to riding it
every day. “Some days, before all the treatment, he could ride it for
20 or 30 minutes. Some days, he only rode it for a minute or two. But
he stayed focused,” says Travis’ mom, Gina.

“I needed to keep myself conditioned,” Travis adds. “I was very
athletic going into treatment, and I wasn’t going to let that go away.
Throughout my care, I was exercising. That helped me a lot; it showed
me I had something to get back to.”

Gratitude for Topgolf and cancer research

Though Travis rode his stationary bike during his recovery, he was
unable to return to his favorite sports — namely football, baseball
and basketball.

“That’s when I picked up golf,” Travis says. “It feeds my
competitive drive.”

Travis and his family made frequent visits to Topgolf Spring during
his recovery. The large outdoor space provided an ideal venue for
Travis to sharpen his golf skills. The environment also helped limit
his exposure to potential infections while allowing the Arnolds to
have fun together.

“Topgolf was great because I could play golf, have fun, play against
my family and beat them,” Travis says. “They would set up hitting bays
just for us so I wouldn’t have to worry about being immunocompromised.
Being able to play sports again helped me feel normal.”

So, Travis was excited to learn that Topgolf was launching a
fundraising campaign to support MD
Anderson’s
programs and cancer research.

From July 7 – August 7, guests can join Topgolf in raising funds to
end cancer. By making a minimum $5 donation, guests will receive a $10
off game play coupon, valid for use on a Monday-Thursday return visit
to Topgolf. You can donate at any of Topgolf’s 30 venues on your
check, or visit www.mdanderson.org/topgolf. All funds raised
through the Topgolf End Cancer campaign will support
programs and research in MD Anderson’s Center for Energy Balance in Cancer Prevention and
Survivorship
, which aims to better understand the connection
between a healthy lifestyle and cancer.

“Fundraising for cancer research saves lives,” Travis says. “It
saved my life.”

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