Thursday, June 6, 2013

Thankful Thursday: "I am a Survivor"

The North Texas staff celebrates Don Armstrong's 7th bone
marrow transplant birthday with him in mid-May.

For me a diagnosis of cancer has been life changing and quite frankly the best thing that ever happened to me. Sounds crazy I know, however it is so true. I am a survivor for a reason!

I have been on an extraordinary, inspiring journey the past seven years. This journey began with the surprising diagnosis of Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) on September 14, 2005. I didn't understand why I got this disease. In fact, I didn't even really know what leukemia was at the time. I learned quickly and was determined to get to the other side of my treatment.

Like so many individuals who are diagnosed with a blood cancer, I had no thought that I might be ill. There were signs and symptoms of my illness but they only made sense after my diagnosis. This is common to many patients as there are no real predictors that determine the onset of blood cancers. I've learned that these diseases are very indiscriminate in whom they touch and my diagnosis could happen to any of us.

My first round of chemo was successful.  After 30 days in the hospital I was released in remission from the AML, and for me, there was a sense of relief. However, for my future survivorship, my doctor determined that a stem cell transplant was needed to eliminate any future recurrence of leukemia. I had four additional rounds of chemo, which included another hospital stay and three rounds of chemo as an out patient.  This harsh treatment kept me in remission while doctors located a donor for me. There were notable moments for me during the five rounds of chemo: some real lows and some huge triumphs along the way which taught me tremendous life lessons. Most importantly, on May 12, 2006, eight months after my diagnosis, I was blessed with a stem cell transplant and a new start on life with a fresh perspective!

While I was going through treatment I didn't have any idea that Team in Training (TNT) existed. TNT found me while checking out The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's (LLS) website one evening in March 2007. I registered for an information meeting to learn more about the program and then went to a kick-off event. The kick-off was so exciting and encouraging that I signed up for the 2007 San Diego Rock n Roll marathon. The event was an absolutely fabulous experience and set me on a journey that has included multiple TNT marathons around the world. The participant's sacrifice and dedication is so inspiring to me. I remain amazed at the transformation of so many individuals make from couch potato to endurance athlete. My most vivid memory of my TNT experience(s) has been that people are willing to sign up and work so hard to raise money to find a cure for blood cancer.

I quickly reached a point in my journey that I wanted to know what else I could do for LLS and the Society's mission to find a cure and support patient services. Several years ago that desire became a reality as I was asked to join the North Texas Board of Trustees. Being a part of this committed group of individuals has been an uplifting, eye opening experience for me. The Board is so dedicated to collectively meet and exceed the mission of LLS.

Recently, I was asked to serve as the Chairman of the newly formed North Texas TNT Executive Leadership Committee. Excited and honored, I accepted this opportunity. This has been a rewarding experience as I've met countless volunteers that have stepped up in support of the current and future direction of the North Texas TNT program.

I am confident that we are close to finding a cure for blood cancer. We couldn't make this a reality without the staff and volunteers. Thank you to everyone that supports LLS. Together we are making a difference!


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