I’ll never forget the doctor looking up at me and saying two words, “cancer” & “chemo.” These were words that were told only to other people, not me.
Feeling rundown, lethargic, short of breath, bruising very easily, my mouth full of sores and my skin tone very pale, at the age of 48, I was about to start a life-changing experience.
In January of 2008, I was diagnosed with AML leukemia and was immediately treated with chemotherapy. From January until July I had five chemo treatments. A year later my cancer returned and my doctor recommended a bone marrow transplant. They tested my brother and sister as potential donors but no match was found. After four months of searching the National Bone Marrow Registry, a match was found. My donor is a 35-year-old male from New York of the Jewish religion; both of our grandparents were from Eastern Europe descent, very good since ethnicity plays a role in being a match.
In June of 2009, I received my bone marrow transplant and was on my way to recovery. For a full year my donor and I wrote to each other anonymously; but, by law we were not allowed to meet until 12 months had passed. After communicating through phone and e-mail, we met face to face at a leukemia fundraiser on stage at Lincoln Center in New York City. My donor’s father died from leukemia 15 years ago, prompting my donor to get swabbed, enabling the determination that he was a match. My donor experienced a sense of fulfillment by saving my life. With that said I would urge everyone to get swapped in order to be in the National Bone Marrow Registry.
Because I was unable to work full time running my family’s menswear business — which was founded by my grandfather in 1950 — the business was sold. I began looking for a new career. That was devastating to me as I had worked alongside my family for 35 years. Yet, I had to move on. I went to work in the technology business for a friend but realized I should follow my passion which is menswear.
Surviving cancer truly changed my life. I am now separated from my wife of fifteen years, and for the first time ever my career no longer defines who I am. Now working for Saks Fifth Avenue, I spend much of my time with my children and working on charity causes, including Texas Children’s Hospital, Texas Center for Missing Children, CanCare, Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, and Congregation Beth Yeshurun where my children are fourth generation members.
Today I am much more in tune with nutrition and exercise. My children Alexandra and Jared are my inspiration and my reason for living; through everything I have developed a closer relationship to all my family. My clergy, CanCare volunteers, friends, and staff at The Methodist Hospital have played a major role in my recovery. Something I learned through surviving cancer was to live life in the moment and do not take anything for granted.
My greatest payback has been this: while I was in the hospital, two of my dearest friends came to visit me throughout a two-year period. They met in my room and later were married. As a bonus I had the pleasure of giving the toast at their wedding on Thanksgiving weekend 2010.
The most important things I learned were to reach out for support, it is okay to cry and being scared is normal.
These days when people ask me how I feel, my answer is “better than ever…as cancer saved my life.”
Category: Survivor Stories
Tags: bone marrow transplant, chemotherapy, jewish, leukemia, national bone marrow registry, saks fifth avenue, texas children's hospital, the methodist hospital