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Richard Johnson: Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

When Richard Johnson found out he had acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), his first emotion was relief. “I was just glad I didn’t have HIV,” he remembers. “I knew what leukemia was, but didn’t think it was serious.” 

In fact, his ALL was much more life-threatening than HIV. Because it was so advanced, Richard’s doctor said he had six months to live—unless he underwent aggressive treatment that included high-dose chemotherapy, total body irradiation and a bone marrow aspiration. At first, he was shocked at the blunt prognosis, until he realized that the doctor just wanted Richard to know the truth about what he was facing. “I knew I had to prepare my spirit for the biggest fight of my life, and the support from family and friends helped me make the treatment decision.”

The final piece of the puzzle was a suitable bone marrow donor. Luckily, Richard didn’t have to look any further than his immediate family. His brother Charles was a perfect match, and gladly gave his marrow to save Richard’s life. Tragically, Charles lost his own life in a 2004 car accident. "He will forever live with me for giving me life, " Richard says.

Richard knows that life after cancer can’t be quite like it was before. He still has occasional, mild symptoms of graft vs. host disease. But that’s OK. His “new normal” life is way better than the alternative. “I’m grateful I can still work, enjoy my family and help others cope with cancer.” With an attitude like that, no wonder he feels like dancing.

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center