Last week was my 56th birthday and the outpouring of best wishes from family and friends near and far was humbling to my heart. Unbeknownst to most, my wife and I were called to Duke Hospital for unscheduled blood tests and a visit with my oncologist earlier in the week, July 3rd. The timing was eerily similar to five years ago, almost to the day, when I received a phone call from Duke telling me I had leukemia. We would soon learn that the disease in my marrow was named CLL-17P and was an incurable, aggressive type of blood/marrow cancer that presented a 24-30 month mortality rate.
That was the bad news for me and my family back then. The good news now is that we are within days of celebrating the three years of life that the medical journals in 2013 suggested I wasn’t going to enjoy. Those that know me, including my high school football and basketball coaches, would concur the best way to inspire and provoke Scott Stankavage has always been to tell me that I can’t do something! Well, this accomplishment is not something I can take any credit for as I am here by the grace of God and His son, and solely by the divine hand as it has worked through the wonderful doctors and staff at Duke and the medicine they have so skillfully administered. I am forever grateful.
Many people have contacted me through 2018 about updates on my health as I have not been posting as regularly on this blog, especially since my last post was sharing the good news of my October 2017 bone marrow biopsy, showing no visible CLL in my marrow at that time. Now that we have the results of a mid-June 2018 bone marrow biopsy, it only seems appropriate to share with so many readers who support, encourage, and pray for me and my family. The following is a cut and paste text that Kate and I shared with my family and close friends at 2:00 pm as we walked off the 5thfloor of the Duke University Oncology Clinic on July 3, 2018:
Happy July 4th. In wanting direct communication with those closest to me, here are the details of yesterday’s oncology visit:
It has been a month of feeling like something is up. Noticing changes in my body, we did a brain scan in March and got our baseline. There were no issues. We did another bone marrow test three weeks ago and the doctors were noticeably silent thereafter. Then Saturday I got a voicemail from my doctor, “Please change your vacation plans so we can get blood work and I will slide you into the lunchtime appointment slot.”
Ut-oh? The visit was on Tuesday, July 3rd. Kate left the kiddos and flew down from her mom’s house in Pittsburgh to be there. My oncologist told us that biopsy results showed that in the marrow the Leukemia has increased in visible CLL cells to 5% pathology and .05% in flow since our 0%/0% test last October which we labeled a “complete response.” I had blogged about that title and people were ecstatic, hearing a cure. But we knew it wasn’t quite what it seemed. So now we see that the horse is out of the barn and we need to manage him before he begins to trot or worse gallop!
We discussed 3 or 4 options, including CAR-T clinical trial and/or trying the third immunotherapy targeted drug that we haven’t used to date, but in the end our doctor suggested we prep for bone marrow transplant and we will do another marrow biopsy in 60 days to conclusively determine this is a progression of the disease. Unless those percentages go back down to zero, which would indicate and that we are still in control of disease both short term and long term, we will likely proceed with a transplant in the fall. Stay tuned. The fun might be just starting. I know The Lord has got me and mine and all of us so I'm not really worried about me, truth be told... but Kate and kiddos? Well, that makes me sad. Not to mention I would like a couple more rounds of golf, to see Shawn play football again, to catch a couple more trout and visit Israel...ok, Lord?
Blessings to all.
So there you have it, no bones about it. Looks like the horse is out of the barn, so to speak! We will now make a plan and execute, living one day at a time, packing as much love and joy as I possibly can into every hour that I have. What a great way to live! I want to encourage you to give this way of living a shot while it’s still a choice rather than what can seem to me like an imperative. And thank you to everyone who has provided prayer and encouragement. There is always more to come.
Stay tuned. Hope you like horses!
Amen and Amen.