Haploidentical stem cell transplant survivor: Cancer, you never had a chance
One of the first features you notice about Travis Arnold is his wide smile. And, Travis has every reason to beam. He graduated this past May in the top 2% of his high school class and looks forward to attending The University of Texas at Austin in the fall.
Thanks to a haploidentical stem cell transplant, he’s also celebrating his third year with no evidence of disease after a cancer diagnosis at age 12.
A myelodysplastic syndrome diagnosis, then acute myeloid leukemia
In 2011, Travis returned home from summer camp and wasn’t feeling well. While this didn’t stop him from playing in a weekend baseball tournament, his illness lingered well after the final game. “I went to the doctor thinking it was a simple cold,” Travis says. But after some tests, he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a precursor to leukemia.
“At first, I thought, ‘Why me?’” Travis says. “Then I quickly found out that I could beat this disease.”
Third time’s a charm with haploidentical transplant
At MD Anderson, Travis received a haploidentical transplant — also called a half-match transplant. Whereas most allogeneic stem cell transplants require a donor who’s a perfect or nearly perfect match, a haploidentical transplant only requires the donor to be a half-match. This meant Travis’ father, Todd, could serve as his donor. Using his father’s stem cells, Travis received his third transplant on April 25, 2014.
The Arnold family felt they had run out of options, but this new approach provided hope. “I wasn’t too sure about the half-match transplant at first,” Travis says, “but when I found out it was my dad who was donating, I felt good. I was already so much like him.”
Throughout his treatment, the fierce competitor and sports enthusiast refused to let leukemia sideline him. He brought a stationary bicycle into his hospital room and committed to riding it every day. “Some days, before all the treatment, he could ride it for 20 or 30 minutes. Some days, he only rode it for a minute or two. But he stayed focused,” says Travis’ mom, Gina.
“I needed to keep myself conditioned,” Travis adds. “I was very athletic going into treatment, and I wasn’t going to let that go away. Throughout my care, I was exercising. That helped me a lot; it showed me I had something to get back to.”
Gratitude for Topgolf and cancer research
Though Travis rode his stationary bike during his recovery, he was unable to return to his favorite sports — namely football, baseball and basketball.
“That’s when I picked up golf,” Travis says. “It feeds my competitive drive.”
Travis and his family made frequent visits to Topgolf Spring during his recovery. The large outdoor space provided an ideal venue for Travis to sharpen his golf skills. The environment also helped limit his exposure to potential infections while allowing the Arnolds to have fun together.
“Topgolf was great because I could play golf, have fun, play against my family and beat them,” Travis says. “They would set up hitting bays just for us so I wouldn’t have to worry about being immunocompromised. Being able to play sports again helped me feel normal.”
So, Travis was excited to learn that Topgolf was launching a fundraising campaign to support MD Anderson’s programs and cancer research.