Karmanos patient Tom Kalas will speak at the 30th Annual Dinner to benefit the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute. For more information about Annual Dinner, held Saturday, April 28 at the General Motors Vehicle Engineering Center in Warren, click http://www.karmanos.org/app.asp?id=1124
In November 2007, I was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, also known as AML. It is a very aggressive and deadly form of cancer. I was 44 at the time, with a business, a wife and three young kids.
When diagnosed, my world shattered. I definitely was not ready to die, but I was also very fearful of what the immediate future would be like. To complicate things even further, three months prior, my father was diagnosed with liver cancer and given one year to live.
I truly was at an extreme low, but vowed to seek treatment at what is considered the very best (or so I thought) leukemia treatment center in the country. My path took me to an out-of-state comprehensive cancer center within two days after my diagnosis for a second opinion and to find hope that my condition was misdiagnosed and a better outcome would result. What I didn’t realize at the time — but later would discover — was that the best center for treatment of my illness was right here at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center.
The second opinion I received at the cancer center was even worse. I was told that I would need a bone marrow/stem cell transplant. Without it, I was given two to three months to live. They admitted me right away and the next day started me on very toxic induction chemotherapy intended to deplete my immune system and bone marrow, so new healthy cells could form.
I had some comfort thinking at the time that I was at the best leukemia center in the country, and what was considered one of the top marrow transplant centers in the world. My sister flew down to be tested, and she turned out to be a match and my donor. I thought at the time God was truly looking out for me.
I stayed in the hospital for six weeks. I lost 50 pounds, all my hair and became gravely ill with 105 degree fevers three to four times per day, along with numerous other side effects and reactions to the chemo and drugs being administered.
The doctors there could not figure out how to bring down my fevers. My wife was in the hospital room with me every day and slept in the room at night, for fear that I would not make it to see another day. Dozens of tests and scans were performed, and still no solution.
My stay was marked with no progress and I experienced one complication after another. My wife and I were away from our kids, family and friends. I promised my kids I would be home for Christmas, but it was now December 21, and there was no way I was in any condition to be discharged. For the first time in my life, I felt that I would not make it through, and if left there, the results would be grim.
My wife had the simple solution — Let’s just get out of here and go home. Easy to say, yet hard to imagine since I had a compromised immune system, was very ill, and hardly had the strength to get out of bed. There certainly was no way I could fly commercial or subject myself to germs in the outside world.
During the time I was being treated at the out-of-state cancer center, my wife had been talking to Voravit Ratanatharathorn, M.D., co-leader of the Stem Cell and Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) Multidisciplinary Team at Karmanos, and although she had never met him, she had a sense of comfort that we never had with the doctors who were treating me at the time.
We made arrangements to leave the center, on a private plane, the night before Christmas Eve. All records were e-mailed to Karmanos and we left AGAINST doctor’s orders. Frankly, I think they were glad to see me leave since they were unable to find any solution for my fevers and other side effects. I was told that I was one of the 10 worst cases they had ever seen, and I thought to myself, this is why I am here! While flying home, I planned on going straight to Karmanos for admission due to my fevers and I took comfort in knowing that I would now have my family and friends around me.
On the morning of Christmas Eve we met for four hours with the transplant and infectious disease doctors at Karmanos. I was so impressed with the fact that these individuals were in town during the holidays and made a point of taking significant time to meet with me and my wife and provide the guidance and comfort level we were so desperately seeking.
I have to tell you, from the first minute of conversation, I immediately knew that Dr. Voravit and Joseph Uberti, M.D., Ph.D., fellow leader of the Stem Cell and BMT Multidisciplinary Team, as well as Pranatharthi Chandrasekar, M.D., professor of Medicine in the Section of Infectious Diseases at Karmanos and Wayne State University School of Medicine, knew what they were doing. I thankfully did not see any confused or perplexed looks on their faces. They had reviewed and highlighted all my records, and had answers for everything. They took me off two-thirds of the medications I was taking, and for the fevers….oh yeah….take over-the-counter Aleve!! Guess what? It worked! My fever was reduced to 101 degrees or less and I was kept out of the hospital until I was readmitted on January 18, 2008 for another round of chemo before my transplant.
The transplant, which occurred on Jan. 24, 2008, went well and due to the efforts of the amazing Karmanos doctors, nurses and staff, I am here today to tell my story and be with my family. I am so grateful for the compassion and knowledge of the Karmanos team!
Karmanos is truly an amazing place. All they do is cancer, and believe me, they really know cancer and how to treat it. The doctors, nurses and staff are so caring and dedicated. They are truly practicing for all the right reasons, and not just for a paycheck. The amazing thing is that all patients receive the same care and attention regardless of who they are or where they came from.
I can also tell you from personal experience, we have a great cancer treatment hospital right here in our own backyard. People travel from all over the country to seek cancer treatment at comprehensive cancer centers like Karmanos, and we are all very fortunate to have this institution nearby.