The morning of February 28, 2008 will forever be etched in my memory. This is the day, at age 35, I was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, AML. At the time of my diagnosis, my oncologist told me my cancer was so advanced that without treatment, I would have lived only a few more weeks. My first thought was “why me?" Then I told myself that everything happens for a reason and this will only make me stronger. Then quickly the question was “how am I going to fight and beat this cancer?" Not knowing the severity of my situation, I remained upbeat, focusing on getting better. I put a lot of energy into overcoming. As much as it hurt, I tried to stay strong and block the world around me out.
Before I was diagnosed in December, every year like clockwork, I would get sick. In 2008 it was different. My symptoms first started with a cough, then came the night sweats. I remember changing my clothes about four times a night. I waited awhile before finally making a doctors appointment. At first I was diagnosed with nothing more than the common cold and was given a Z-pack. I went back to my normal coaching routine. A few nights later I had more sweats and then a fever. My wife, Teri, begged me to go back to the doctor. They did blood work and told me that they would contact me with results. I received a call four hours later, a Tuesday afternoon around 3:00pm. My doctor informed me that I should go to Hershey Medical center for more testing. I asked the doctor if it could wait because I was about to travel to the Indoor Big Ten Championship. He said “No, you need to go tonight.” I finished practice, went home and told my wife what the doctor had said. We contemplated whether we should go, and decided to drive to Hershey around 7:00 p.m. We got there around 9:00 p.m., didn’t get checked in until 1:00 a.m. and finally saw a doctor around 5:00 a.m. that morning. The doctor did a bone marrow biopsy and we waited for the results.
On February 29th, I began chemotherapy. Ten days later my oncologist informed me that the first round of chemo didn’t work. I began a second round of chemo using another drug. Twenty one days later we found that that drug was effective and there were no residual cancer cells in my bone marrow. I tolerated both chemotherapy drugs well with minor complications. During the month of April, I began consolidation chemotherapy in preparation for a bone marrow transplant. They also began testing my siblings to find a donor match. This was very difficult because all seven of my brothers and sisters live in the Bahamas. In June, during this process, I then found out I had a baseball size tumor on my left thyroid. I had to stop the consolidation chemotherapy and wait for my blood counts and immune system to recover in order to have thyroid surgery. On June 17th I had thyroid surgery and six weeks later, on July 29, I had a bone marrow transplant. My donor was my little brother, Wayde.
Everything was great for 4 years 345 days. Then on July 4, 2013, 20 days before reaching my five year mark and my cure date, I relapsed. This was really tough. I knew this was going to be harder than the original diagnosis. The second hardest thing I had ever faced. The first time I was diagnosed, it was an “ignorance is bliss” situation. I had no expectations. This time was different because I knew exactly what I was facing and how difficult it was going to be. I had to get mentally prepared fast.
I started my first round of chemotherapy on July 5th. It did not work. So, I began a second round of chemo with another drug. A few weeks later after a bone marrow biopsy, I found out that I still had residual cancer cells in my marrow. My oncologist tried a new drug and finally, it was effective. During this last chemo, I was really sick. I couldn’t swallow and didn’t eat anything for 23 days. After losing 30lbs, I had to be fed through an IV line for three weeks. My oncologist didn’t know how much more chemo my body could handle due to prior heart and liver issues, so he decided to give me more of my brothers cells they had frozen in 2008 in hopes I would stay in remission while they searched for another donor. In October of 2013, I received about 30 million of my brother’s frozen cells. Two weeks later I received a call from my nurse coordinator saying that my bone marrow biopsy came back clean. That was the best news I had heard in months. The next step was to find a match from the registry. After 5 months searching the registry we finally found an unrelated, 52 year old female donor match. Since I was in remission from my brother cells, my oncologist decided not to use the donor and instead fly my brother to Hershey, Pa. from the Bahamas to give me fresh cells. My oncologist believed that the fresh cells would continue to keep me in remission. Six weeks later, in April 2014, I receive 80 million fresh cells from my brother. I have been in remission since.