Carson City teen desperate for bone marrow transplant
Appeal Staff Writer
Cameron Hardy’s last and only chance at survival is a bone marrow transplant.
There is no exaggeration in that statement. No unwarranted urgency.
If the Carson City 19-year-old doesn’t get a transplant soon, the high-dose chemotherapy that he endures five days a week to battle leukemia will eventually destroy him. If he stops the chemo, then the cancer will end his life.
“It’s killing his body. He can’t take it much longer,” said his mother, Michele Lynn.
That desperation has catapulted Michele, a single mother raising five children, into unique territory – one that relies solely on the kindness of strangers.
On Sunday, the Plaza Hotel’s conference room will look part medical clinic, part friendly gathering for the Cameron Hardy Bone Marrow Donor Drive.
Nurses will be on hand to take mouth swabs from strangers in a search for a donor match.
The swab is the first test to determine compatibility. If a match is suspected, the donor will be asked to submit to a blood test. If that’s a match, they will be asked to donate bone marrow. Cameron’s health insurance will cover all of the donor’s costs.
Of 30 candidates tested from the National Bone Marrow Donation Registry, no match has been found.
Hopefully the lines will reach around the block on Sunday. Hopefully, Michele said, people will understand that her son needs to find a bone marrow donor soon.
“What we are hoping for is that a match is going to be here in my own back yard,” said Cameron, a 6-foot-3-inch-tall teenager with an easy smile.
After a walk near his home in January 2007, Cameron realized the fatigue washing over him was more than a cold.
“I was feeling tired easier. Pretty soon I had three staph infections. I was really pale, really worn. Then it just started getting to where I’d take a walk down the street and I couldn’t even breathe,” he said. “I just thought there was something invading my body.”
His mother took him to Urgent Care. Urgent Care sent him immediately to the emergency room.
The diagnosis was swift and grim – acute myeloid leukemia.
Commonly referred to as AML, acute myeloid leukemia is a rapidly progressing disease in which too many immature blood-forming cells are found in the blood and bone marrow, according to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. The result is explosive cell growth and an accumulation of undeveloped cells called “leukemic blasts.” As these cells accumulate, the production of normal marrow cells is blocked, leading to a lack of red cells, blood-clotting platelets and infection-fighting white cells. These blasts then flood the bloodstream and lymph system, and may invade vital organs such as the brain, testes, ovaries, or skin, spreading the cancer.
According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, an estimated 21,790 people died from leukemia in the United States in 2007. The estimated number of deaths are about 30 percent higher for males than females.
Cameron’s feeling was accurate. He was being invaded.
He said he never even realized it at the time, but as a healthy 18-year-old he felt invincible.
From the moment he was diagnosed, he did everything the doctors told him. If he wavered, his mother was there to set him back on track.
There was hope in the beginning, when Cameron’s first round of chemotherapy sent him into remission.
In April, one month short of his remission anniversary – a milestone that if met means the odds of survival increase – Cameron’s blood counts started dropping.
“We were really focusing on that anniversary. It was starting to haunt him,” Michele said.
The tests confirmed the worst. Cameron had relapsed.
Cameron said he couldn’t stop the tears. Michele did the only thing she could do. She stayed by her son’s side, sleeping on the floor of his bedroom just to be near him.
“We stayed home just to regroup emotionally. It was very traumatic,” she said.
Because of his compromised immune system, visitors to his home are asked to don surgical masks. When Cameron leaves the house, he puts one on too.
Through the months, Michele has found the money to stock each room with an air purifier.
When his sister Cailey, 15, was sick, she was confined to her bedroom.
If Trenton, 8, sneezes, his mother spins around to see what he’s touching.
Michele looked to her friends and family for support. They mobilized. With the help of the National Marrow Donor Program, they organized this Sunday’s drive to recruit the community to come out for testing.
Fundraisers have been held in Cameron’s name, and the money will help pay the $25 fee for anyone who wishes to be tested, but can’t afford the cost. No one will be turned away, Michele said.
Those who can afford the fee and attend the testing are encouraged to donate.
Michele said she’s heard that 70 people are coming to the drive. She prays that it will be hundreds, so that Cameron’s odds of finding a match are better.
Cameron is convinced enough people will turn out to help. He plans to be there to thank each of them personally.
His positive outlook is a trait, Michele said, that she admires and tries to emulate.
“He’s known for ‘two thumbs up.’ Have a good attitude or don’t be around at all,” she said.
His battle has become a family affair. When Cameron needed to be hospitalized, each of his brothers and sisters was assigned a task. The youngest, Trenton, was in charge of the art committee. Cailey was head of photography. Chelsea, 22, took care of entertainment and Tristan,10, was in charge of finding cool hats to cover Cameron’s chemotherapy-induced bald head, a side effect of the chemotherapy.
“Our family motto has always been, when one thing happens to one of us, it happens to all of us,” Michele said.
At that statement, Cameron flashed two thumbs up.
Michele has her fingers crossed that people will heed her call for help and come down for the testing. Participants will not only be reaching out to Cameron, they will also be added to the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry.
Every year, more than 10,000 Americans get life-threatening diseases that can only be cured with a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor, according the National Marrow Donor Program.
All people have to lose is a snippet of time, Michele said.
But what they gain, she said, can’t be stated any simpler: “They will save a life.”
Contact reporter F.T. Norton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1213.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Cameron Hardy Bone Marrow Drive
WHEN: noon to 5 p.m., Sunday
WHERE: Plaza Hotel 801 S. Carson Street
WHO: Anyone between the ages of 18and 60
ON THE WEB:
Home testing kits can be purchased for $52 if you visit the website of The National Bone Marrow Donor Program at http://www.marrow.org and click on JOIN and then JOIN NOW.
You order a test, do the swab at home and mail it back.
They will then process the tissue typing and let you know if you are a candidate.