Myelodysplastic syndrome survivor: Why I’ve been giving my care team Sacagawea coins
Without their Native American guide, Sacagawea, to lead them, early American explorers Lewis and Clark might never have survived their journey across unfamiliar territory to the Pacific Ocean — much less succeeded in their quest to explore it and map it on behalf of President Thomas Jefferson.
Most stem cell transplant recipients find themselves in a similar situation: we’re all on a medical adventure of epic proportions, blazing a trail in lands we’ve never seen. I’ve been on this journey myself since last August, when I was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone marrow disease that’s a precursor to acute myeloid leukemia.
Like Lewis and Clark, I’m also uncertain of my path’s ultimate outcome. But I’m moving forward in faith each day, in the hopes of eventually reaching my goal of remission. My care team at MD Anderson has been beside me every step of the way, even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why I’ve been giving Sacagawea dollar coins to MD Anderson employees.
A small symbol builds connections
I actually didn’t come up with the idea myself, so I have to give credit where it’s due. My late father-in-law had a number of medical challenges during his last decade of life, and I often accompanied him to his treatments. At one point, he was receiving a new, very advanced type of therapy. To show his appreciation to one of the nurses who helped him, he presented her with a Sacagawea coin. She liked it so much that he ended up repeating the gesture with other members of his care team.
Sometimes, the people who received the coins would laugh. Sometimes they would cry. Some would look at the coin and others would look back at him. But I couldn’t help noticing how touched they all were and how much his heart swelled when he gave them a small token of his appreciation. It created a bond between them, and that was really neat to witness. I decided if I was ever in the same boat, I would do that, too.
Everybody needs their own Sacagawea sometime. And everyone who has ever helped me is great in their own way. That’s why I’ve been handing out these coins.
I already had pretty high expectations when I came to MD Anderson last summer. But my actual experience there has exceeded my expectations by a factor of 10. Every time I get a new caregiver, I’m surprised by how thorough and caring they are. Every last one of them! It’s exceptional. So, I want them to know how special they are to me, too.