January 31, 2018
Leukemia diagnosis brings survivor, daughter closer than ever
BY Mena El-Sharkawi
Dana MacFarlane may have been the one who received a leukemia diagnosis, but she’s certain every one of her family members suffered just as much during her treatment. Still, she chooses to see the good that’s come out of her journey.
“I’m closer to everyone in my family due to this cancer,” she says.
That’s been especially true for her relationship with her oldest daughter, professional pole vaulter Demi Payne.
“We’ve always been close, but now there’s just a different type of closeness,” Demi says.
Dana, 48, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in July 2017. Her husband Craig needed to return to East Texas to work and care for their two teenage daughters, Blake and MacKenzie, so Demi, 26, paused her training for the 2020 Olympic Team Trials to care for her mother.
“As much as she says she needed me to be with her, I need to be here with her just the same amount,” says Demi. “My mom has always been that person for me -- she was always pushing me to succeed and always so encouraging to me, and it was awesome that I got to stay here for two weeks and be that for her.”
Reasons to smile during stem cell transplant recovery
Dana underwent a stem cell transplant on Nov. 1, 2017. During her recovery, Demi cheered up her mom by snapping silly pictures and videos, and sharing them with the thousands of friends and supporters who follow her on social media.
“She’d come and crawl in bed with me, and she’s like, ‘C’mon, Mama, we need to take a selfie!’ So we’d take a picture, and then she’d say, ‘No, Mom, you’re going to have to smile bigger.’ Then she wanted to take a picture of me sprinting in the hallway, and she made me do it like 10 times so she could get the perfect shot,” Dana recalls, laughing. “She kept pushing me beyond my comfort zone. No one else was going to do that, but she made me do it. Not only did it bring cheerfulness, it made me smile when I didn’t want to smile.”
Support provides motivation
Even though the world got to see the lighter side of Dana’s stem cell transplant, there were many dark hours, too. Dana suffered from nausea, diarrhea, thrush and fatigue for days at a time. But the support she and Demi received from around the world motivated both of them to push through.
“The feedback that I got back was insane,’” Demi says. “I’d have people from Israel messaging me, saying that they’re praying for my mom and for me and my family – people that I don’t even know.”
Gratitude for every moment with her daughter
Dana was released from the hospital 20 days after her stem cell transplant. Despite the pain she endured, she’s grateful for the impact that her treatment has left on her relationship with her daughter and the rest of her family.
“I think the Lord has taught us how to number our days in that when we are in today, and that’s all we’re promised,” she says. “It makes every moment that I spend with Demi more passionate, more real. It works that way with everyone.”
As for Demi, this experience has taught her to never take her loved ones for granted.
“I look at it differently now. Just like when you get in fights with your mom, and you don’t talk to her for however long it is – we’ve done that before, and this changes everything. The next time we’re mad at each other, it’ll be for maybe 10 minutes. We won’t let it last,” Demi says. “I don’t want to stay mad at anyone. I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to love someone because life can change.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
TopicsSide Effects Bowel Management Support Leukemia Acute Myeloid Leukemia Survivorship Fatigue Nausea Treatment Stem Cell Transplantation Cellular Therapy
I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to love someone.