Sean

Sean

Sean was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in February 2015. The diagnosis fell during the planning season for Macon’s Cherry Blossom Festival, at the time of which he was the Director of Programming. Below Sean describes his journey at Northside Cancer Institute from diagnosis through remission.

Diagnosis

I was on my way to lunch and received a call from my general practitioner that my lab work was marked as urgent. Based on the findings, they had made an immediate referral to Georgia Cancer Specialists Macon Office. I was sitting in my car in my office parking lot, went back inside to let our HR rep know of the situation, called my parents, and then went to the specialists.

I had noticed clear symptoms as early as a month prior, but given the high stress level from work that time of year, I associated the symptoms with stress. I was employed as the Director of Programming of the International Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon and the Festival is two weeks in March and April, so February and the months prior had always been a stressful period.

I didn't really allow myself an emotional reaction. I did my best to understand the gravity of the situation and that what was most important was to get all my personal and professional affairs in order so that I could completely focus on whatever treatment I would have to undergo. I remember I definitely was shocked, but rationalized the importance of getting myself situated to remain focused and confident. A lot of the emotional reaction did not set in until post-treatment and even still now during my continued recovery.

Treatment

I received four courses of high-dose chemotherapy over the course of four months. The induction chemo (IV, Picc Line in my arm) was completed at Northside and was the most intensive as far as related side effects. The following three courses took place in Macon under the supervision of Georgia Cancer Specialists (IV, Port in my chest) and were still high-dosage, but only one drug was administered instead of three in the initial. Over the course, I have had four bone marrow biopsies; two prior to my induction chemotherapy, one following my induction chemotherapy, and one following my final chemotherapy to determine remission status.

Despite the jarring, rapid social and professional changes that occurred, the side effects from the induction chemotherapy stand out the most difficult thing encountered during treatment. Intense fatigue, rapid weight loss, loss of appetite, persistent nausea, bone and muscle pain, night sweats, high fevers (104+), and eventual hair loss. The noticeable side effects of the induction treatment subsided about three-four weeks following the completion of round one.

Across the board, my experience at Northside could not have been handled in a more appropriate, personal, or professional manner. Their staff acknowledged from day one that my complete recovery and comfort was their number one priority. The doctors, nurses, and techs that worked with me treated me with respect, kindness, and dignity, were thorough in their communication with my family and me, and made sure that my needs were met. The support team of respiratory and physical therapists, nutritionists and food services staff, and clinical coordinators provided a level of service that complimented that of what I was receiving medically. Across the spectrum, from the house keeping staff to the executive and administrative staff, I received the highest quality of care.

Recovery

I am currently in remission and am scheduled to receive bone marrow biopsies around every three months to determine that I have maintained remission (next will be in late October or early November, unscheduled). Northside facilitating for me to undergo the additional cycles of treatment in Macon and with minimal hospital time is something I am incredibly thankful for.

Aside from my family and friends and my wonderful girlfriend, there was an outpouring of support from the Middle Georgia community and the friends and associates I've made through my professional interests. My family started a GoFundMe to assist with expected expenses related to my treatment and recovery and the goal of $30,000 was exceeded in just a few short weeks. I am beyond fortunate to have the support system that I do, it does not escape me in any way and I think about it every single day.

Hopefully, and I'm confident, I am cured! While a treatment with milder side effects would have been welcomed, I felt completely comfortable with the courses of treatment and care I received and that they were all necessary. Spending less time in the hospital would have been the best aspect of potential advancements in treatment (I spent just over 40 days total), but received high-quality care the whole time.

Words of Wisdom

Communicate with the team that's around you and it will build significant trust and confidence in the care that you're receiving. Have patience, acknowledge the love and support around you, take the steps to ensure that you are able to focus on your treatment and recovery entirely. Take advantage of any resources that are around, don't be afraid to ask questions or speak up. Be positive, but acknowledge the reality of the situation; you are ill, but surrounded by a team of professionals that are focused on your complete recovery and return to "normalcy". Don't spend too much time on the Internet, but do what you can to educate yourself about your diagnosis, prognosis, and plan for recovery.

Looking Forward

I am thrilled to be revisiting plans to return to complete my undergraduate degree, a plan set in motion by encouragement and support from my family prior to my diagnosis, and I will be moving to Nashville, TN to attend Belmont University for their Liberal Studies Program, focusing on Music Business and Entertainment Industry Studies. As I grew to learn how I was responding to the additional treatment, I became more comfortable with interacting with friends and getting out in public. I spent a great deal of time reading, playing guitar, and communicating with friends and family.

Sean would like to acknowledge the teams at Coliseum Medical, Navicent Health, Georgia Cancer Specialists (Dr. Malhotra and her office staff), and especially the entire Northside BMT/Leukemia staff.

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