Eight years after undergoing treatment for a Hodgkin's disease recurrence, Kenneth Woo was just about to graduate from his oncologist's care at MD Anderson.
Then, the unthinkable happened: he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) after suffering from fatigue and dizziness that he'd thought was anemia.
"I'll never forget the sad look on my doctor's face when he told me I probably had leukemia," Kenneth says. "At that point, going from Hodgkin's disease to leukemia felt like getting a death sentence."
Doctors told Kenneth that AML was a common side effect of the type of radiation and chemotherapy he'd received as part of his Hodgkin's disease treatment.
"Because two of my chromosomes were mutated from previous cancer treatments, it didn't look promising," Kenneth recalls.
At that point, Kenneth and his wife Clara -- who were raising two young daughters -- agreed to ensure neither faced this AML diagnosis alone. They agreed to tell each other exactly what they were feeling, even on their worst days.
AML treatment: A clinical trial and chemotherapy
For his AML treatment, Kenneth immediately began chemotherapy and enrolled in a clinical trial that kept him in isolation for weeks. He couldn't see his daughters at all. And, when his blood cell count dropped to zero, Kenneth could only see Clara through a glass window.
Doctors told Clara that although the AML wouldn't kill Kenneth, the chemotherapy might since he needed such a highly toxic level of treatment.
Both Kenneth and Clara wondered what the future would hold for their family. Would Kenneth live to see his daughters graduate from high school? What would happen to the girls and Clara if he didn't survive?
"We pledged to each other that regardless of whether I lived, we would be a channel of blessings for others for the rest of our lives," Kenneth recalls, saying that even in those dark moments, they wanted to use their experience to help others.
Undergoing a stem cell transplant to cure AML
After successfully completing chemotherapy, Kenneth underwent a stem cell transplant, which doctors said offered the best hope for a long-term cure for his AML. His sister, Emily, donated her stem cells.
To make his body more receptive to the new stem cells, Kenneth underwent another clinical trial, where he received the drugs fludarabine and intravenous busulfan.
When the procedure was complete, Kenneth came out on the other side of AML. He's been cancer-free for the last decade.
He still takes anti-rejection drugs to keep his immune system from fighting the transplanted stem cells. But he says this is a small price to stay cancer-free and get to experience so many more milestones, such as seeing his daughters go to college.
Giving back to other cancer patients
The Woos have kept their promise to be a channel of blessings, helping other cancer patients and their families as often as possible.
Both Kenneth and Clara help out in the Be a Match Registry Drive whenever they can and volunteer at MD Anderson. Even their oldest daughter spent a summer volunteering here during high school. Kenneth volunteers with myCancerConnection, a patient-to-patient support network that allows him to provide a listening ear and support for other patients.
"When I volunteer at MD Anderson, I feel like I can light up the life of another person for just a second. That's meant a lot to me, my wife and our girls," he says. "Volunteering makes me feel like I'm not a victim of cancer. I'm a survivor."
AML is one of the cancers MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about our AML/MDS Moon Shot.