The following interview with Keri Weise is part of our on-going educational series called “#WeCanICan: Beat Cancer with Cord Blood” in support of World Cancer Day which is celebrated every year on February 4th.
Keri is living proof of cord blood’s ability to successfully treat cancer.
Save the Cord Foundation: When were you first diagnosed with cancer and what type of cancer was it?
Keri: I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) on August 5th, 2014. I had gone into the urgent care clinic because I knew I was anemic, and I had tickets to a Paul McCartney show that night. I didn't think I was going to be well enough to attend, so I went in to clinic hoping they could give me a shot of iron, or something. Two days later after "seeing some funny cells in my blood," I went in for a bone marrow biopsy and the doctor said - "well, we are here to find out what kind of cancer you have." I was shocked to say the least. I went home and prayed that I would at least have a chance to fight. I went in the next day and found out I had ALL, which is pretty rare in adults, and was admitted immediately after my appointment and started treatment that day.
Save the Cord Foundation: Why was cord blood offered as a treatment choice for you? Were you participating in a clinical trial?
Keri: I fortunately had a lot of matches, both cord blood and bone marrow. Looking back, I can see that they were trying from the start to get me to transplant, because 1) I was relatively healthy (minus the cancer), 2) I responded very well to treatment, and 3) my gene that had mutated and grown had transformed back to normal and that was a good prognostic indicator. My doctors at the University of Minnesota ultimately chose a perfectly matched 6/6 cord blood unit for my transplant. I was also given the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial but, in my case, this required switching my donor about a week before I was scheduled for transplant to a 4/6 match that was expanded, as part of the clinical trial. But, I was uncomfortable with the lower matching, so I asked to be switched back to the 6/6. I asked why they wanted to switch to the 4/6 match and why they had chosen that cord, and they simply replied that the algorithm they wrote had changed. I'm glad I went with that 6/6 match, because I am here today and living life.
Save the Cord Foundation: How was your cord blood transplant different from your experience with chemo and other methods of treatment?
Keri: Transplant was very much the same, but different in intensity than my previous three rounds of chemo. I had three rounds of Hyper CVAD and 6 rounds of intrathecal chemo before transplant that got me into complete remission. Most of the same chemo I had previously were what I received before transplant, although my doctor called this dosage an "atomic bomb" of chemo. I also had eight rounds of total body radiation before the transplant. All of this combined completely wiped out my own immune system. Because of the much higher doses, I was a lot sicker after. For every round of treatment and for transplant, I had to be hospitalized because I had zero white cell count. I was in the hospital around 100 days between August - December 2014. It all happened very quickly. I had my transplant only four months after diagnosis.
Save the Cord Foundation: What is your advice to those currently diagnosed with cancer?
Keri: My advice would be to listen to your doctors and trust that the path they put you on is the right one. But it is also very important to be your own advocate, and to fight for what you think is right and best for you. Remember to take care of yourself by keeping moving when you feel up to it and asking for help when you need it. My mantra has been throughout - this too shall pass.
Save the Cord Foundation: What is your advice to parents and doctors who are skeptical about cord blood?
Keri: My advice would be to educate yourself and learn about all the lives that cord blood can save! I am here today because a mom donated the cord of her son, who was born somewhere in the Central Time Zone in 2012. There's a mom and son out there that literally saved my life because they donated their cord blood! Every day I am thankful for them and for the second chance at life that they've given me.
Cord blood is generally considered medical waste, a.k.a garbage, but it literally saved my life! I cannot ever thank the people out there enough that have chosen to donate their cords.
Our team at Save the Cord Foundation wishes to thank Keri for sharing her amazing story with our readers.
Please share her story with others and let’s encourage every expectant parent to consider how they will #SaveTheCord.
Here are the main points to remember:
Educating parents is only part of the challenge. We must also educate health professionals and key decision makers in government. Public donation programs are too few and far between. The majority of hospitals do not have a donation program for cord blood. Yet, when you hear a story like Keri’s, you wonder why? Why is there not a public donation program in every hospital? Good question! The answer is often simple – awareness. Lack of awareness leads to lack of interest and, of course, lack of funding. If we want to win the battle against cancer, we need to invest in more cord blood donation programs and encourage hybrid banks who can help fill the gaps.
Learn more about your options for saving cord blood. Follow our Step-by-Step cord blood guide for parents which looks at both donation and private storage options.
Meet other cancer survivors from our #WeCanICan: Beat Cancer with Cord Blood series: