Recently I spent an extended period of time at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) with a friend who is undergoing radiation treatment. Patients, caregivers, family members and friends develop a sense of community as they focus on eradication of tumors, promoting healing, and providing the best quality of life for everyone involved in this journey.
Expressions of faith, prayers, and thankfulness to God, the Creator, the healer, and the restorer are discussed throughout the community. One patient, Sherry Pratt, believes 2016, the Year of Jubilee, embodies the essence of beginning again. Jubilee was the concept given to Moses by God as a set time on God’s calendar every fifty years for everyone held captive to be released. Set free to begin a new life.
Sherry’s total stem cell transplant will offer her a second chance at an abundant life in which she plans to share her experiences with others who are seeking answers about rare cancers and the extraordinary new treatments available to them. She will also share God’s divine plan for salvation and release from captivity.
We met Sherry wearing a mask to prevent exposure to germs and her sister Sonya Stephens. Sonya is her one hundred percent match donor. The experts recommend a close relative as the best possibility for a successful transplant. Sherry and Sonya sister matched on the ten factors—a miracle in itself.
Sherry graciously answered questions about stem cell replacement. I’ve been interested in knowing the details since Robin Roberts gave us a front seat during her diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), her transplant, and one hundred days of recovery.
Sherry’s journey began in 2006 when an annual check-up revealed possible anemia. The physician conducted annual check-ups, and in 2012, confirmed her anemia. He referred her to a hematologist, a doctor who is able to diagnose and treat a variety of blood diseases and disorders.
At the conclusion of the bone marrow biopsy, the hematologist confirmed Sherry had MDS, a rare form of blood cancer. MDS is a group of diseases that involve abnormalities of the bone marrow. Bone marrow is tissue found within the bones. Its task is to create mature blood cells from stem cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen through the system. White blood cells protect the body from infection. Platelets stop bleeding by clotting the blood.
Normal cell creation process is disrupted by overproduction of clones of a single stem cell. This leads to a decrease in production of normal red blood cells, white cells and platelets. Currently there is no cure for MDS.
Sherry participated in the standard prescribed treatments for containing the disease and extending life, including chemotherapy and drugs. Sherry was scheduled to enter another program in New Orleans, hoping to add up to five years of life expectancy from previous diagnoses. At 62, she might live to see 67. The downside was if the treatment did not work as expected, she was out of options. She was unsettled about the lack of alternatives.
One Friday evening, Sherry spent two hours in conversation with a nurse navigator after a friend suggested getting a second opinion at CTCA. After consultation with her family, the decision was made. Sherry arrived in Zion, Illinois after a 15-hour train ride to undergo five days of intensive work-up and treatment planning.
The treatment has had its ups and downs with blood transfusions and fevers due to a lack of white blood cells. She’s had setback, but is on track for the transplant. The doctors have killed her immune system and are giving her shots to increase stem cell production.
On day zero, Sherry and Sonya will be wheeled into separate rooms. A machine will pull the blood from Sonya’s left arm, filter out the stem cells and collect them in a bag. When the team has collected enough stem cells, Sonya’s blood will be recycled through her right arm back into her body. Her part in the process will conclude.
Across the hall, the bag of stem cells will be transfused into Sherry. She will be monitored closely for the first thirty days to guard against infection. After another seventy days of monitoring, Sherry expects to go home.
Sherry will be released from MDS when she receives her sister’s stem cells. She expects to add twenty-to-thirty years of life expectancy. This new beginning, this new birthday coincides with the Year of Jubilee.
Sherry is anxious to get on with her new life. She’s a witness for God’s hand in her healing. She’s created a little booklet: 101 Healing Verses, which she had printed and distributes to people, she meets. I have mine on my office desk. God’s word is her best medicine as she sits in her small room with its ionized air and totally pristine feel, waiting for the call.
-Joyce A. Brown
Joyce Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women. She graduated from Bradley University with a B.S. and M.A. Her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria, Illinois; and Battle Creek, Michigan. Joyce obtained a PhD from Western Michigan University.
She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and an entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in the contemporary fiction novels she pens.
Her most recent novels are Getting Away With Everything, What You Can Get Away With, and she is also one of twelve collaborating authors in Baring It All: The Ins and Outs of Publishing and a contributing author in a romance anthology titled, Signed, Sealed, Delivered … I’m Yours.