Today’s Guest Post was written by Tami Byrd of Rochester Hill, Michigan about her amazing son Blase, his battle with a rare type of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. When baby Brady was born, Tami and her husband banked his cord blood with ViaCord and used it as a transplant to treat Blase’s leukemia. Today, Blase is a healthy 11 year-old and has been cancer-free for more than five years. This is their story……
June 21is summer solstice, otherwise known as the first day of summer. It marks the end of one season and the beginning of another. Coincidentally, it is a special anniversary for our family. It signifies the end of a season of countless tears and desperation, and the beginning of a new season of hope; the day that a once seemingly impossible medical intervention and our prayers collided to form a miracle!
On December 3, 2006, a day indelibly stamped into the recesses of our minds, the bottom fell out of our world, beginning a season of unmatched terror and sorrow that threatened to crush our family. Our eldest son, four-year-old Blase, was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. Inconsolable, searing pain would be our companion for the weeks and months to come, possibly forever.
Blase had complained of a sore ankle for days, so I asked the doctor to do x-rays and take blood. I still recall feeling my neck hair stand on end. He was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The little white sterile room we were assigned to would be our new home. I remember crying out to God every second of every minute. The pain of watching my four-year-old being poked and prodded, administered chemo, undergoing spinal taps and bone marrow aspirates was almost more than I could bear.
Tests showed his leukemia was highly resistant to treatment, and the flicker of hope in the doctor’s eyes was replaced by an invisible wall of ice when they mentioned there were only 40 cases of this cancer worldwide. The only treatment option available was three-and-a-half years of extremely intense, inpatient chemotherapy. Even then, doctors estimated Blase’s five-year survival had a 20 to 30 percent chance at best. Our doctor told us they never use the word “cured” in relation to our son’s diagnosis.
As I was also pregnant at the time, doctors advised us to bank the cord blood of the baby I was carrying, just in case it was a bone marrow match for Blase. This opened up the possibility of a bone marrow transplant as a last ditch effort in hopes of a cure, but doctors said chances of the unborn baby being a suitable match for Blase was less than 25 percent.
To prepare for a potential bone marrow transplant, we chose ViaCord to bank our baby Brady’s umbilical cord blood for its stem cells, and they were amazing! ViaCord has a program called Sibling Connection that banks cord blood at no cost for expecting parents who have a child in need of a transplant and meet a few other requirements. Any expectant family with a child who has an established diagnosis of a disease that is currently treatable with sibling cord blood may be eligible. Our third child, Brady, already on the way, was a perfect bone marrow match!
On June 21, 2007 our son had what floor nurses and doctors called the first ever sibling cord blood stem cell transplant at University of Michigan Hospital. They all said it was the best of both worlds- that they had never seen a mom actually carrying a baby that was a perfect match and then having that blood banked for a sibling cord blood transplant. Most importantly, the cord blood stem cell transplant was successful! Six months later, Blase was off every single one of his medicines. In summer 2012, the same doctor who told us they never use the word “cured” in relation to our son’s diagnosis back in 2006, told us, “Tami, Matt, five years has passed – your son is now considered cured!” It all seems like some terrible nightmare that we finally got to wake up from.
To celebrate Blase’s transplant anniversary just a few weeks ago, the boys wanted an archery party with their friends. Arrows soared, soccer balls spun, water toys brought shrieks of joy and laughter. The kids screamed and ran and energy exploded in a radius that could be heard for miles! We all huddled for a wonderful prayer of thankfulness. We will never forget, and we will never stop giving thanks.
Through all of this, our family has been strengthened and grounded by the mass destruction cancer caused. We strive to live life on purpose. I have had the opportunity to speak at faith-based events, on the benefits of cord blood banking, and I’m working on a book.
Compelled to encourage those facing similar trials, our family began bringing Easter baskets and breakfast to families in hospitals where our son was treated, something we’ve continued for years now. We’ve also been thrilled to set up an Easter egg hunt for the children at the hospital, because we remember how boring it was when we were stuck there on Easter and other holidays with nothing to do, and friends help us deliver thousands of dollars in donated gifts every year.
We’ve been blessed to be involved with many organizations: Little Mary’s Hospitality House, CLF, Curesearch, The Divine Mercy Center and Relay for Life to name a few. Blase is ready for his sixth year at Camp Quality in Michigan, which caters to pediatric cancer warriors. He’s also been part of an empowering karate program called Kids Kicking Cancer for about six years – he loves karate!
Now 11, Blase has returned to his sweet self with a very determined spirit, quick wit and an adorable laugh. He loves soccer, Legos, inventing things and his friends. Most of all, he is an extraordinarily caring big brother! With all that he and our family have overcome, I don’t think anything can hold him back!
You can follow our family’s journey at www.caringbridge.org/visit/blasebyrd.