Transplant Lessons

It’s been 6 months since I was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a precursor to leukemia, and told that unless I underwent a successful bone marrow transplant, I would not survive another year. See my post “Sobering News and Turbo-Charged Learnings”. I was extremely lucky that the youngest of my four brothers happened to be a perfect match for me and was able to donate his stem cells to be transplanted into my bone marrow after my own bone marrow was annihilated by chemo treatments during a short four day period. Otherwise, I could still be waiting for a donor with time running out as so many others I have heard about.

It was a harrowing four months before the transplant, fighting opportunistic infections that had me in and out of hospitals  during that time and isolated in my apartment when I was not in the hospital, because I was immuno-compromised and could not afford catching even a simple cold. Towards the end of that period the doctors suspected I could have already degenerated into acute myeloid leukemia which would have substantially reduced my chances for the transplant to cure me. In addition, it would have required months of debilitating chemo to make the leukemia retreat to a point where I could undergo the transplant.  Luckily, when I  underwent a biopsy, it showed that I was still under the threshold for AML.  The doctors were able to proceed with the transplant in the beginning of February. I will be under regular medical treatment for the next two years but hopefully my life has been saved.  Nonetheless, there are no guarantees.  The statistics show that there is around a 50% probability that one can succumb to a complication post-transplant or that the illness may come back.

Why do I mention this? Despite the odds, I feel I have a new lease on life. Part of a successful outcome depends on seeing the glass half full instead of half empty and additionally, we can only live in the present.  The past is gone and we don’t know if there will be a tomorrow, hence the saying by Horace, carpe diem.

I would like to share with you some of the realizations I have come to in the past months, some of which were completely contrary to my former lifestyle:

  • Enjoy life now.  The day you pass on to greener pastures no one will remember how much time you spent working.  People will remember relationships, and any support or help you may have given them. Do not waste opportunities to reach out to others.  Even a simple smile can be uplifting.
  • Have balance in your life.  Do not leave things you like to do for a mythical time in the future when it might be more appropriate to indulge.  When you can’t do something specific, don’t dwell on it. There is plenty to enjoy and limitations allow you to try items you like but may not have been part of your short list.
  • Be aware of limitations for perspective but do not dwell on them.  Know that nothing happens randomly and we are all on different paths. Do the best that you can with the 5% of our minds that we control, knowing that there is another 95% that we do not control and yet there is a higher power we can access to guide us and bring it into our scope.
  • Freely accept help and good wishes without feeling that you are imposing or indebted to the giver.  Give them freely yourself, without any expectation of gain.
  • Develop yourself spiritually as it will hone your intuition and help you to discern the big picture of what is going on in your life and what you need to focus on.
  • Remember and pray for all those who are ill or in dire circumstances and especially those who are alone and have no one to turn to.

Please share your thoughts with me on these and other lessons you may have learned through experiences in your own life or from the lives of those close to you.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Posted on April 3, 2012, in leukemia, life lessons, MDS, stem cell transplant. Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. Georganne Weller

    In spite of the adverse circumstances I see you as winning the battle – for you the glass is more than half full! Keep up the good work, we’re with you and thanks for these reflections on what’s important in life. ABRAZOS….

  2. Dear Maria Cristina, keep up with your strength. I’m sure you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel. My sister had AML twenty years ago and she is still here and full of life. Luckily I could give her my bone marrow and despite very difficult years she made it. I could make mine your realisations and I’m sure my sister could too. The most important thing is never to lose hope! Wishing you all the best.

    • Marta, thank you for sharing your experience. How wonderful to hear that twenty years ago, someone with AML was saved! Somehow I don’t think there were too many positive outcomes back then.
      You must feel so blessed as my brother did, that you were able to give the gift of life.
      When I was in the hospitals, one of the patients received a stem cell donation from an unknown woman in Europe who was part of the registry and was good enough to go through the procedure to extract them and send them to the U.S. There are many selfless people in the world.

  3. I absolutely love your attitude, Maria Christina! We’re so happy the transplant was a success and we are believing that the worst is behind you! It’s true what you said, we must embrace what we have and offer our very best in all we do! That is a mantra that Dave & I have committed to. We love you and will continue to lift you up in prayer, my friend!

  4. Dear Maria Cristina,
    So good to hear that you got the transplant in time. I’ll continue to think and pray for the continued treatment.

    I agree 100% on your list. Often easier said than done, but so true to be reminded from time to time.

    Also great to read another post again – relevant for both interpreting and life 🙂

    • I appreciate your interest and prayers very much and am glad you enjoyed the post. I look forward to reinstating some of my prior activities such as keeping in touch with new friends over the internet. It is wonderful to hear from you.

  5. Donna B Burgess

    Dearest Cristina,
    You are such an amazing woman!! Such a core of strength and love that will overcome!
    Though this time has tried to take so much of you….it is you that has gained so greatly from it’s attack. How you have inspired so many when the odds are against you. I believe every word on that list….what a perfect time to take advantage on giving back to your life when we spend so much time taking those precious elements away.
    I’m so happy and grateful to hear of your progress and the beautiful gift from your brother!!
    Please know that my heart and prayers are with you as you continue on a healing journey.
    It is so awesome to read your posts….so full of love and courage. May you be surrounded by many blessing.
    With all my love and prayers, God be with you, Donna Burgess 🙂

    • Thank you for reaching out Donna. It’s great to hear from friends who have been an important part of your life at one point and that you are reunited with. It’s part of the ebb and flow of our journey. I trust you and Shawn are doing well. I hope to be up in your neck of the woods in August if my health permits and I will certainly call you.

  6. Thank you Maria Cristina for sharing your experience, lessons and amazing insights! You are a beautiful warrior and an example of what strenght, spirituality and awareness can accomplish! I am always sending you my best vibration! Blessings to you!

  7. Perla Marina Alcober

    Tini, eres un ser humano de un valor increíble. Bajo tu apariencia delicada se esconde una voluntad de hierro y una vitalidad enorme.
    Este post es una lección para todos, de incalculable valor, sobre todo porque está asentado en la experiencia de primera mano.
    Sé muy bien que estás ganando y dentro de un tiempo todo va a ser eso: una experiencia dura, de la cual aprendiste cosas que quizás ya sabías, pero que te hizo más consciente de ellas.
    Desde que conocí tu estado, siempre mis oraciones y mis buenos pensamientos han tenido un espacio muy particular para ti.
    Un abrazo grande,

    • Querida Perla, gracias por tu opinión de mí. Solía pensar que era más fuerte de lo que esta situación me ha dado a conocer, pero lo importante es no dejarse amedrentar. Hay que seguir adelante aceptando la ayuda y el apoyo de los que nos rodean porque Dios siempre nos abre camino si no nos dejamos caer presa del desespero.

  8. Elise G. Strauss

    Dear Maria Cristina,
    I have been thinking about you a lot the last few weeks and I was thrilled to read your blog. Yes, you are strong and with the support of prayer, family, friends, colleagues and positive energy flowing from everywhere, you will make it. Your philosophy is sound and we have all, I am sure, read it and said it like everybody else, but until it hits close (and you are only one of my few friends who had to face a major challenge of this nature), we keep it somewhat in an fuzzy and abstract framework, somewhere in the back of our minds and go on with our daily activities without really realizing that there is so much more to life… And, the fickle finger of fate reminds us how right you are. I have been there and I am still grateful for the second chance I got and the ability to enjoy what I have not lost … So are you!
    Good luck, dear friend and I will continue to send you these energy vibes …

    With all my fondest thoughts


    • Dear Elise:
      Thank you for your thoughts. I value them because I know you have had your own trials, all of which force us to look at our lives from another perspective, and you responded favorably to the challenge. Your insight about how we tend to keep knowledge at arm’s length until we get walloped is very true of all of us. Let us hope that as we overcome our challenges, these perceptions do not recede into the background again. At this stage of my life, I don’t think they will.

  9. Maria Cristina you are so brave!

    Thank you for sharing your life with another colleague. Sharing not only the successes but also your real life, the good and the bad.
    God bless you and may he keep you healthy for many years to come!
    Happy Easter!
    An admirer,

    • Seeing the good and bad as part of a continuum, the two banks of a river, our task is to strive to navigate down the middle with the attitude that we won’t run into the sides and beach our boat on either side. I say “attitude” because we cannot control the storms that buffet the physical but we can certainly control our mindset and that will ultimately affect our experience.

  10. Dear Maria Cristina, I wish you all the best and send my love and prayers to you. I don’t really know you personally, but as many pointed out, your posts are so full of life and positivity, a true inspiration for all of us. Thank you for sharing your story.
    Best wishes and a happy Esater!

  11. Heloisa Machado

    Dear Maria Cristina,
    You are an amazing woman and I have already expressed my true admiration for you especially during these hard times. Keep your spirit high! My prayers and love go to you on this Easter Sunday. Abraços

  12. This is an incredible brave post, thanks so much for sharing you thoughts.
    I agree that we worry too much about things that do not matter at all.
    I am not a praying person but I sincerely hope the best for you, you are very strong and a source of inspiration.

    • I am glad that you agree that we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. We get so wrapped up in what is going on around us that it becomes difficult to discern our priorities. Thank you for your good wishes.
      BTW, I am enjoying all of your posts although I have not gone back to commenting on other blogs very much. I hope we have the opportunity to meet personally sometime soon!

  13. Dear Maria Cristina,

    While I was reading your lines, I couldn’t believe that it was indeed about your own experience. The way in which you were describing the recent events in your life, showed such strength and wisdom. You are, indeed, a very strong human being and I admire you tremendously. You are a survivor and an inspiration to alll of us and especially to anyone who might have to face a challenge like this in the future.

    • Silvana, I believe that life creates certain conditions in order to challenge us to learn lessons we might not have identified as part of what we needed to know. I don’t think I am particularly strong or worthy of admiration. I have just realized that if I don’t learn the lesson that each experience offers us on a certain occasion, I can be sure that it will boomerang on me and come back in another guise. Hence it is to my advantage to try to minimize a painful learning curve by figuring things out the first time around or as soon thereafter as I can.
      Thank you for commenting and BTW, I do want to help others in the same or similar situation to face it and make the best of it.

  14. Isabel Ferrandis-Edwards

    I am so glad to hear you are on you are recovering well. My husband went through a bone marrow transplant 21 years ago, with his brother being the donor too, and he is doing great. Have faith and keep positive! My best wishes to you, Isabel.

  15. Dear Maria Cristina,

    I found out only recently, and quite by chance, about the terrible blow life has dealt you in the form of such a horrific disease. My heart goes out to you and your loved ones! It is such a relief to hear you are well on your way to recovery. May it be complete and speedy. It sounds like the worst is behind you. Thank you for sharing your experience and your learnings. You are such an inspiration and a great example of true courage in the face of adversity! Que Dios te bendiga. Pauline

    • Dear Pauline,
      Thank you for writing. Unfortunately, my disease has come back but I am at peace and I believe I still have work to do here so with God’s help I hope to be around for a while. Please continue to pray for me.

      Your friend,
      Maria Cristina

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