Stan and Sue Stanek
On December 1, 2016, my 60-year-old healthy looking husband, Stan, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
He was told he not only needed intense chemo to prevent the cancer from spreading like wildfire, but he also needed a stem cell transplant to survive.
The next seven months were filled with chemo. The first rounds were so intense he needed to be hospitalized 55 days. He achieved remission for a short period of time, but the cancer returned. He then received a different type of outpatient chemo for three months which, unfortunately, did not work.
We learned about a clinical trial at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas that targeted a specific gene mutation that is present in less than 20% of AML patients. We were told it would be Stan's best chance to achieve remission. He qualified for the trial and began treatment with a daily med we called "the magic pill".
Meanwhile, his brother Rob (a perfectly matched donor) had his stem cells harvested and frozen, hoping Stan could eventually use them.
After six months and 18 trips from our home in Minneapolis to Houston, Texas, Stan achieved complete remission and was evaluated as ready-for-transplant. We packed our bags and took up residence near the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota where Stan would be transplanted, 100 miles from our home.
Stan's transplant was Feb 23, 2018. The doctors were both optimistic and realistic, telling us that the success rate was a little better than 50%.
It was a very challenging time, taking a huge toll on Stan's body. We told the doctors: “this ain’t for sissies!” and they completely agreed!
While Stan still experiences transplant-related issues and is currently being treated for chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), he remains in remission. We love and appreciate our life deeply.
A few things that have helped Stan thrive:
He walks 10,000+ steps daily. Even when he was in the hospital, Stan lapped the 200-step "track” around the oncology floor. Now, during our Minnesota winters, he bundles up to walk outside or does laps at a local mall. After seeing Stan’s walking regimen, one of his healthcare providers said “that man's got Stan-i-ma!” It stuck, and Stanima is now his nickname.
Despite a difficult prognosis, Stan decided to focus on being positive and hopeful. From day-one of diagnosis, he started tracking his daily gratitudes on a calendar. These calendars now wallpaper his home office. Tracking gratitudes has helped remind him, and us, to make each day well-lived.
Stan has grown in his faith. We decided to pray out loud together each night. In our prayers we count our blessings, pray for others, and make our requests. About six months into the journey, we had a prayer service for Stan at our church. We expected a small circle of about 20 people. We were overwhelmed when 165+ friends and family poured into the service and gave us the most important support they could offer.
Stan shares his story. Through the website CaringBridge, we keep our friends and family posted on what is happening. Over 1,200 different people have visited Stan’s site, with many posting words of encouragement. What an amazing avenue for support. We also look for ways to support others on a life-threatening health journey, offering our story as hope and encouragement.
Since diagnosis, Stan chooses a theme for his life each year.
- In 2017 Stan chose RESURGENCE
- In 2018: THRIVE
- In 2019: STRONGER
- In 2020: ADVENTURE
- In. 2021: VITALITY
- In 2022: SPON-TENTIONAL!
These watchwords remind him what he wants to intentionally choose for his second chance at life.
While we wish cancer had never entered our lives, we can honestly say that we have, in many ways, become better because of it.