“I was taking a shower during a trip to Paris and experienced this notorious itching. I thought it was the hard water in France,” Seymour remembers.
After visiting a doctor in Austin, he was diagnosed with thrombocythemia. This condition causes the body to make too many platelets in the bone marrow, potentially causing blood clots, bleeding, bruising and general weakness.
An oncologist and hematologist in Austin did a bone marrow biopsy, confirming Seymour’s suspicion that the underlying diagnosis was cancer, specifically CMML.
“As soon as I knew it was cancer, I contacted MD Anderson,” Seymour says.
CMML diagnosis requires blood donations
CMML is an uncommon type of blood cancer characterized by high numbers of white blood cells in the blood and bone marrow. CMML causes low counts of healthy blood cells and high counts of diseased monocytes, a type of white blood cell that helps other immune system cells fight infection. It is further categorized as a cancerous disease called myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasm, a newly created term for a diagnosis exhibiting features of both myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and myeloproliferative neoplasm. In this group of diseases, the bone marrow simply doesn’t produce enough healthy, mature cells.
Seymour remained largely asymptomatic until the spring of 2023, though he was diagnosed with CMML in 2018. Between 2018 and 2023, he underwent regular bone marrow aspirations and biopsies to monitor the condition of his bone marrow and blood cells. When his white blood cell counts began dropping in 2023, leukemia specialist Guillermo Garcia-Manero, M.D., Ph. D., recommended an allogeneic stem cell transplant. The first step was getting rid of as many cancer cells as possible through a process called induction therapy, followed by chemotherapy.
This meant Seymour, like other leukemia patients, became dependent on blood transfusions during his treatment.
Patients with blood cancers often require blood transfusions not to treat the cancer itself, but to provide healthy blood cells when the body doesn’t produce its own. These healthy cells can help to relieve side effects from treatment like chemotherapy. They also help prevent infection, bruising, bleeding and anemia.
Seymour had nearly 40 blood transfusions between April and August 2023.
Grateful for MD Anderson Blood Bank
“I was completely dependent on blood,” he explains. “Without those transfusions, there would’ve been no treatment or transplant possible in my case.”
MD Anderson transfuses more blood than any other hospital in the United States, and it relies on the generosity of blood and plasma donors to support our cancer patients. This can be challenging at times depending on patients’ needs and availability of certain blood types. Those with O-type blood can give red blood cells to anyone. This type is known as the universal donor, and it’s always in demand. Mostly used for emergency transfusions and immune-deficient patients, O-negative blood is in highest demand, but only about 7% of the population has O-negative blood.
Seymour happens to be part of that 7%.
“I didn’t know I had this rare blood type. That makes me more thankful for the people who donate. If it weren't for donors providing platelets, hemoglobin and bone marrow, there would be no story here to tell,” he said.
Putting CMML treatment plan into action
Seymour’s care team knows firsthand what an important role blood donors have played in his treatment and recovery.
“The aggressive induction therapy and stem cell transplant he needed to control the leukemia would not have been possible without the transfusion support provided by MD Anderson Blood Bank,” Garcia-Manero says.
Stem cell transplants are often used to treat people with CMML. At age 70, Seymour felt the timing was right when Garcia-Manero recommended one after five years of monitoring. “I didn’t want it getting out of hand as I got older,” he says.
He began the stem cell transplant treatment protocol in July, receiving high-dose chemotherapy to destroy the cancer cells in order to prepare his body for healthy blood stem cells from a donor. The donated cells replace the bone marrow not producing adequate blood cells.
Since then, Seymour has been staying in an apartment not far from MD Anderson. Post-transplant, patients are closely monitored for 100 days, and their blood is tested frequently to ensure the body is accepting the donor cells without issue.
That 100 days was up at the end of October.
Seymour was recently cleared to begin physical therapy after the new year.
“I’m just taking small steps and looking forward. I’m taking it day by day,” he says. “I’m just thankful.”