When my twin sister and I were four months old and our brother Matt was three, our dad noticed that he could not stay awake at night to help my mom care for us. He could not pick us up because we were too heavy for him. For a 33-year-old family-oriented guy, these symptoms were worrisome and prompted him to go to the doctor. My dad was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, an aggressive cancer of the blood.
Immediately, my parents researched treatment options and decided to go forward with a bone marrow transplant. Essentially, intensive chemo and radiation therapy killed all of my dad’s cells, striking a careful balance not to kill him but to kill everything else in his body. With all cells inside of my dad completely wiped out (people can only survive in this state for a number of hours), doctors injected healthy bone marrow from my uncle Mike into my dad, rescuing him. No one really knew what would happen next, as this treatment was experimental at the time. My dad’s body began reproducing Mike’s cells and things looked great — for about five months.
When my dad relapsed, the doctors told him there was nothing they could do. The cancer was back, stronger than before and his only option was to wait a year, until his body could undergo another bone marrow transplant. Knowing that he probably did not have a year to wait, my mom contacted a doctor conducting cancer research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. Dr. Hugano enrolled my dad in her study of an interferon drug. This drug and the work of an amazing team of cancer researchers put my dad in remission and he has been cancer free for the last 20 years.
The most recent cancer statistics estimate that in 2011, approximately 1.5 million people will be diagnosed with cancer and over half a million people will not survive their battle with the disease. My dad was there, teaching me how to ride my bike, helping me with math homework, encouraging me on a daily basis to be the best I can be. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without him there. I Relay because I am and always will be grateful for the cancer research that saved my dad, and I hope that it continues to save others in the future. Stanford Relay for Life will take place this weekend, May 14 to May 15, at the Stanford track. We invite you to participate in our games, win awesome prizes, listen to the best bands on campus, eat delicious food, hear inspiring stories and most importantly, support our fight against cancer or honor someone you love this weekend at Stanford Relay for Life.
Kelsey Bechelli, ‘11