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MDS Patient Story

Judith Cavalancia

Judith Cavalancia was always an active person, so she was surprised when she started getting tired during her daily walks. In January 2012 Cavalancia, 54, went skiing in Salt Lake City, staying active despite her fatigue and a fever. When she returned home to Indiana, Penn., her sister suggested she see her primary care physician for a checkup.

Concerned about Cavalancia's bloodwork results, the primary care doctor sent her to a hematologist who, in turn, sent her straight to the local hospital for additional tests, resulting in a transfer to the emergency department for a blood clot that affected her from one mid-thigh to a calf. Through a series of additional tests and biopsies, by both the local hospital and a Pittsburgh hospital, Cavalancia was diagnosed with hypoplastic myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) last March.

"I knew the only cure for MDS was a bone marrow transplant," Cavalancia says. "I started searching the Internet for hospitals that had the most transplant experience and the best success rate for treating people my age." The results? Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and a hospital in Seattle.

Cavalancia met with Amy DeZern, M.D., and Robert Brodsky, M.D., of Hopkins' Center for Bone Marrow Failure Disorders, who took another bone marrow biopsy, and two days later flew out to Seattle to meet the specialists there. While leaving the West Coast appointment, she got a call from DeZern informing her that the most recent tests indicated Cavalancia also had some leukemia cells in her blood that needed to be treated right away. She decided to return closer to home for treatment.

Cavalancia received chemotherapy for the leukemia cells last spring and in June underwent a bone marrow transplant, with one of her brothers serving as the donor. Through it all, she says, she tried to maintain a positive attitude and keep as physically active as possible.

Today "I feel great," says Cavalancia, who is back to walking three to four miles a day, lifting weights and taking tap dancing lessons. She's also back at work helping manage payroll and paying bills for her husband's orthodontic practice. Despite a mild case of graft-versus-host disease ( a condition in which donor cells can irritate the host's immune system), which is being managed with medication, Cavalancia says she doesn't feel sick at all: "I feel like I am going to live until I'm 90."

 

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