Kyle Branan, 74, is retired from 42 years in building supplies, retail, and granite sales in his hometown of Elberton, Georgia, known as the Granite Capital of the World.
He is active in his community and church, traveling to disasters to cook and serve food and building wheelchair ramps for families in need throughout Elbert County — more than 500 ramps and counting! He has a woodworking shop where he enjoys making and refinishing furniture. He and his wife, Marie, play golf several times a week and attend many local high school sporting events.
There is no time for cancer. But in 2017, that’s exactly the diagnosis Kyle got.
For years, Kyle had regular annual checkups with his primary care provider. Everything was normal … until it wasn’t. After his checkup in 2017, his routine bloodwork indicated something was wrong.
Kyle’s doctor referred him to Northside Hospital Cancer Institute’s Dr. Priya Rudolph in Athens, Georgia.
“Dr. Rudolph ran several tests including a bone marrow biopsy. Results showed I had a blood cancer called polycythemia vera,” Kyle said.
According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, polycythemia vera is among a group of blood cancers known as myeloproliferative neoplasms, where the bone marrow has too many red blood cells and, in many cases, white blood cells and platelets are also elevated. With careful medical supervision, it can be managed.
Kyle continued to see Dr. Rudolph every month for bloodwork, and he took chemo pills every day, suffering no side effects from the treatment. For the next three years, his life continued as normal.
Then in January 2021, Dr. Rudolph was again concerned about Kyle’s bloodwork. More tests and another bone marrow biopsy were done.
On Feb. 25, at 2:30 p.m., Kyle’s phone rang.
“When I heard Dr. Rudolph's voice, I knew the news was not good,” said Kyle. His cancer had progressed to acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
“What a shock! I had no symptoms. That very morning I helped build a 36-foot wheelchair ramp!”
Next was a trip to Northside Hospital Atlanta in Sandy Springs — 101 miles from Kyle’s home — where Kyle was admitted to the hospital’s Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT) Unit. He and his family had three days to handle the shock and begin preparing for their lives to change.
“That morning saying goodbye to my wife, son and daughter, knowing I may never see them again, was the hardest thing I have ever had to do,” said Kyle.
What do you pack for a three-week hospital stay? T-shirts, underwear and pants.
“I learned quickly that walking the halls was a very important part of my treatment plan,” said Kyle. “I was so thankful I had packed those pants!”
Marie stayed at home. As this was happening in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kyle couldn’t have visitors — not even his wife. The couple would video call several times a day. Kyle also received calls from many of his friends and family to encourage him on his journey. Cards, letters and packages accumulated in his room.
“One of my nurses asked me if I knew everybody in Elberton. ‘Just about,’ I said. ‘We are a small town.’
“I can't say enough good things about all the people who work at Northside Hospital and the blood and marrow clinic,” said Kyle.
Dr. Scott Solomon, medical director of Northside’s Matched Unrelated Donor Program, has been Kyle’s doctor through his long journey.
Dr. Solomon explained AML is deadly without treatment. Kyle had three options:
- He could do nothing and probably survive 6-8 months.
- He could choose to take a lower dose of chemotherapy and remain living at home in Elberton. Dr. Rudolph would administer the chemo at her clinic in Athens. This would prolong Kyle’s life for a few years, but it would not cure his cancer.
- Kyle and Marie could move closer to Northside and begin the process for a bone marrow transplant.
“I did not need to hear anything else. I was going for the transplant!” Kyle said.
“Dr. Solomon said bone marrow transplants are not usually done for anyone 72 or older. My birthday was in three months, and I would be 72.”
More tests were done to confirm Kyle was healthy enough to proceed with the transplant. Kyle started chemotherapy the next day. Marie began the search for an apartment so she could be closer to him and the hunt for a donor began.
Patients who undergo a bone marrow transplant need to stay near the hospital for at least 100 days after transplant in case complications arise. Patients like Kyle who live more than 60 miles from the hospital often need to rent an apartment for their home away from home.
Kyle was discharged from the BMT unit on March 24 and he and Marie moved into their new apartment. The move would end up being longer than expected, but Kyle says he and Marie were so blessed to have family and friends to help them through the transition. They didn’t move back home to Elberton until February 2022.
Kyle continued to receive outpatient leukemia treatment at Northside. In the meantime, an international donor — a 100% match — for Kyle was found.
“The blessings continued!” he said.
Kyle’s bone marrow transplant took place on July 6, 2021.
“Getting to the transplant and going through the ups and downs after the transplant can be very difficult,” he said. “I had to keep reminding myself that it was my only chance to beat AML.”
Many times, throughout Kyle’s journey to recovery, he doubted he would ever be able to return to all the things that he enjoyed doing before his AML diagnosis.
“The good news is that I have been able to,” he said. “Did it happen all at once? No. Did I have setbacks? Yes. Blessings upon blessings!”
He is grateful for Marie.
“During this journey, my wife had to be my support, my pharmacist, my cook, my driver and sometimes she even needed to be my therapist and redirect my thinking,” he said. “She’s good at that.”
Dr. Solomon had warned Kyle and Marie in the beginning how hard moving to Atlanta and uprooting their whole lifestyle was going to be. “He was right! It was very hard, but we made the best of it,” Kyle said.
On Aug. 22, 2023, Kyle met with Dr. Solomon for his two-year anniversary post-transplant. His blood tests and bone marrow biopsy showed he is cancer-free.
“I have to say how dedicated and caring ALL the medical staff at the hospital and the clinic were to me. I especially want to say thanks to Dr. Solomon and his physician assistants, Rae and Rashi. They are outstanding! And, to Janet Benn. She is the best with a biopsy! I always appreciated Elsy and the ladies at the front desk. They were so friendly and helpful.
“There are many, many others whose names I can't recall but whose care I will always remember! I tell everybody if you get blood cancer, the best place you can be is Northside Hospital.”
* The health story shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50% five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions.