Then I discovered that my insurance provider would consider covering transplants for patients over age 65 — but only if they met certain fitness criteria, and the transplants took place as part of clinical trials at a certified institution.
Since I’d been playing squash competitively for years, I knew I could meet the health requirements. So, I began researching hospitals. As an economist, I like somebody with experience. And when I read about the incredible work Richard Champlin, M.D., was doing in this area — and the fact that MD Anderson performs about 850 stem cell transplants a year — I called to make an appointment.
How I’m contributing to cancer-fighting science
I participated in two different clinical trials at MD Anderson. The first one tested the effectiveness of a particular combination of chemotherapy drugs (administered in a certain sequence) designed to prepare older patients for stem cell transplants with reduced-intensity conditioning. The second one tested whether a chemotherapy drug called azacitidine (Vidaza) could help prevent a recurrence if administered after a stem cell transplant.
I received the drugs as part of the first clinical trial, but was randomly assigned to the group of patients that did not receive the drug as a part of the second.
At first, I was a little disappointed. But the way I see it now is that I’ll be one of the patients who prevents the doctors from mistakenly thinking something’s going to help, if it isn’t. And the only way to know that is to have a control group. So, I’m the control.
Why I chose MD Anderson for my stem cell transplant
It’s been two years since my allogeneic stem cell transplant, which used an anonymous donor’s cells to kill any remaining cancer cells and restore my immune system. And so far, I’ve shown no signs of relapse.
I have to take a small pill daily for the rest of my life due to chemotherapy-induced hypothyroidism, and I had a bit of graft versus host disease (GVHD) on my upper torso for about a year. But other than that, I’m doing great. And I’m now an even better squash player than before.
As patients, we ultimately have to choose the best place for our treatment. For me, that place was MD Anderson. Because I believe in the careful science behind their clinical trials. And everything its doctors do is designed to improve the success rate of patients’ treatment.