Reunion brings together transplant survivors
About 300 survivors of bone-marrow and stem-cell transplants attended a reunion Saturday at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Seattle Times staff reporter
There's something lonely about facing death.
"It changes your life. No one really understands the tenuousness that you feel," said Michael Rubin, of Seattle.
In 1987, a bone-marrow transplant saved him from early leukemia.
With a nod, Denis Nathan of Milwaukee, Wis., chimed in with his own description: "Lying in bed, day after day, and wondering whether there's going to be a sunset that you're gonna see."
A stem-cell transplant saved him from the same disease in 1999.
The two men, from different generations and different parts of the country, met Saturday at a patient reunion at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. The Hutch and its transplant center at the alliance have performed 12,700 transplants since 1969.
In the 1970s, the chances of surviving a bone-marrow transplant were about 35 percent, said Dr. Mary Flowers. Now the odds of survival are 80 to 90 percent. That means there are a lot more survivors than there used to be, so the Hutch in 1988 decided to host a reunion every five or six years.
The fifth reunion, this weekend, drew about 300 patients who had lifesaving stem-cell or bone-marrow transplants at least five years ago.
Chris Lundy, who lives in San Diego, received his transplant in 1971 — the 29th such transplant ever done. He was 21, and doctors told him he had a 10 percent chance of survival with a transplant, but would die within a week without one.
Lundy thought about becoming a doctor, but when he left the hospital after a 36-month stay, he didn't know whether he would live long enough to complete the training.
This November will mark 40 years since his transplant. He went on to raise three children and work as a teacher, a property developer and a hospital administrator.
Since his transplant, he's had trouble talking to people about how near he came to death. He found the reunion "a little spooky," he said, but it's hard for him to put his finger on what's so emotional about it. He finds himself choked up at times; other times, he feels that people can't understand what he's been through.
At a Saturday morning workshop, a presenter pointed him out as a 40-year survivor. Within minutes, 15 people lined up, he said, just to shake his hand.
"I guess that's gratifying," he said, "I give them hope. I give them something to look forward to."
Everywhere you looked were families kept whole by lifesaving transplants. Rubin was with his 10-year-old daughter, Mallory, at the reunion. He is mindful that he owes her birth to his transplant 24 years ago.
"What did I say to you in the car?" he asked his daughter. "Having you is better than surviving a bone-marrow transplant."Then he added: "This is the icing on the cake. This," he squeezed her skinny shoulders, "is the cake."
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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