From negative to positive: How cancer treatment changed more than my blood type

Slowly but surely, my new, Euro-chic stem cells found their way to their new home and started producing normal, healthy blood cells for me. Though I had cleared a major hurdle, I was by no means out of the woods. My doctors kept a watchful eye on me during the critical first 100 days post-transplant, giving me anti-rejection drugs to help my body and its European houseguest get along.

Protected by the equivalent of a newborn’s immune system, I was extremely susceptible to infection and still needed to avoid crowds or anyone with the sniffles. The house was dotted with hand sanitizer stations positioned in strategic locations. I even needed to get all my baby shots again. Measles, mumps, rubella: I was a 28-year-old infant. It was like they hit the reset button on me.

Day by day, though, the counts rose, eventually plateauing exactly where they should. I passed the 100-day mark with no relapse and no major fights inside my body. Before long, my new marrow was firing on all cylinders. And perhaps most mind-blowingly of all, my entire blood type switched to that of my donor’s — from A-Negative to O-Positive.

I celebrated St. Paddy’s Day 2009 by having the IV port in my chest removed. By the summer, I was able to do 10 push-ups without collapsing. And by my first transplant anniversary, I was given the thumbs up to return to work.

My immune system will always be less than spectacular, and I still need to go to Princess Margaret Hospital a couple times a year for blood work. In those regards, the bear hunt continues. But the trail’s gotten much smoother. And while I’m not naive enough to believe that I won’t encounter major obstacles in the future, I’m thrilled to have successfully overcome the ones I have.

It takes more than luck to navigate through the wildernesses of our lives. It’s not enough to flip a coin and hope for the best. A successful bear hunt depends on so much more. It requires teamwork, balance, flexibility, positive thinking and a whole lot of hard work.

Lady Luck played her part in my own hunt, no doubt. But more important, I think, was my decision to take charge and do everything in my power to surround myself with the right people and equip myself with the right tools to survive.

I wish you well with whatever obstacles you face on your own personal bear hunt. Just remember: It’s not the size of the obstacle that matters. It’s how you respond to it that really counts.

“I’ve heard there are troubles of more than one kind.
Some come from ahead and some come from behind.
But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready you see.
Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!”

— Dr. Seuss