… this time to a lot of his friends.
[Blogmeister’s Note: A few months ago our colleague and friend, Mitchell Lazarus, used this space to thank an anonymous donor who provided blood stem cells to help treat his leukemia. Mitchell was in the middle of his treatment then, so his post left us all hanging: would the stem cell infusion work or not? We now know the answer.]
Back in April I posted to CommLawBlog from a hospital bed while receiving lethal amounts of chemo drugs – lethal to my leukemia, we hoped, but also to me. The drugs were killing off blood stem cells I needed to survive. Doing this made sense only because an anonymous donor, a good biological match with me, was ready to contribute a bag of healthy stem cells to replace those I was losing to the drugs.
Four months later, new test results show my leukemia is completely gone. An earlier blood cancer, multiple myeloma, which has been in “near complete remission” since treatment four years ago, is gone as well. I am cancer-free. I have a future again.
My earlier post recounted frustration at not being able to properly thank my donor, somebody who went to a lot of trouble to save the life of a complete stranger. (You can do the same; go to this website.) My debt to that person is one I can never repay. But he (or she) is not the only one I owe.
Those who helped me survive include my large medical team at the University of Maryland Medical Center: not just the doctors – dozens across a range of specialties – but also technicians, coordinators, social workers, administrators, pharmacists, and food service people. And especially the nurses, who were, thankfully, always close by. It was frightening to wake up in the middle of the night in a hospital bed and remember why I was there; it was a lot less frightening when the call button brought a kind face and a warm, reassuring voice.
There were also friends: those who put on gowns and gloves and masks to visit me in the hospital; those who have since trekked out to my post-hospitalization residence, both to visit and to help in many ways; and those who live too far away to visit but have taken the trouble to send cards and stay in touch by email. My colleagues at Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth, lawyers and staff alike, have given unwavering support through the whole ordeal. I have been gratified by the offers of prayers from people in a score of traditions, in synagogues and churches and American Indian communities all around the country.
Soon after diagnosis last October, I complained to a nurse that my treatments were not leaving time to get my work done. “Of course not,” she explained. “Having cancer is a full-time job.” She was wrong. It’s actually two full-time jobs. The other full-timer is my wife, Judy Shapiro, who for the last ten months dropped what she was doing to help me out, back me up, and tend to my sometimes considerable needs. She was there during doctor visits, sat with me through endless hours of chemo, identified a nasty drug interaction the medical staff had overlooked, and kept me supplied with foods I like and reading materials and toy helicopters. I know there are people who recover from cancer without Judy’s help, but I’m not sure how they manage it.
I am not quite out of the woods, despite the excellent test results. My donor’s cells might still eventually conflict with my own. The drugs I take to minimize this possibility suppress my immune system, which in turn leaves me open to various infections. I have to wear a mask in public and avoid exposure to crowds and small children.
But it’s a lot better than having cancer.
The last year gave me a new understanding of how much we all depend on each other. My only regret is not having enough of a lifetime to pay back the people who got me through this. To all of you, I can only say: Thank you.