George’s Journal

Thanks for visiting the site. I would first like to wish my mother, Sue Ghindia, my wife, Cheryl, and all mothers reading this post a very Happy Mother’s Day!   Today, I touch on a number of topics, including:  a cool milestone, the City of Hope Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion, wisdom from Scott Smykowski, the anti-lymphoma drug Rituxan, new personal missions, my remarkable friend Barbara Ann Lipinski, and a cherished “second opportunity.”

It has now been one year since I received my bone marrow transplant, May 6th – my second birthday. I look forward to many, many more “first and second” birthdays!   

VICTORIOUS GATHERING OF SURVIVORS

Against all odds, thanks to God’s will, Cheryl and I had the pleasure of attending City of Hope’s annual Bone Marrow Transplant reunion, April 29th. Last March and April, I would see posters announcing the reunion at COH’s outpatient clinic (where I usually meet Dr. Chen). A key goal of mine was to make it to “next year’s reunion.  COH has been conducting BMTs for 35 years, and recently marked its 10,000th BMT – truly remarkable!  There were a couple thousand patients / survivors / caregivers / physicians / nurses and staff in attendance. I met dozens of BMT recipients, many survivors from 10-15-20-25 even 35 years ago! This joyous event took place on a beautiful sunny day under huge tents on the expansive lawn of the COH grounds. We were entertained by comedian Sean Kent, COH BMT alum (www.seankent.com) – very funny!  He does the late night TV gigs.  Check the photo album to see Cheryl and me with several other BMT recipients and their spouses:  Art (6 months) and wife Debbie, Sherry (8 months) and Mom/Lois, and “Lalo” (25 years!).  Sherry also had an unrelated donor transplant.  Another photo shows Lalo, me and Dr. Stephan Forman, M.D. Chair, Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation. Dr. Forman is one of the top BMT experts in the world.

SCOTT SMYKOWSKI’S WISDOM

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Scott Smykowski. Scott is a friend of my brother John, and former University of Michigan football player. Just out of college, Scott was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia – not cancer, but a deadly blood disease. After 2 years of treatment and a BMT, he started his new life. Here’s what Scott emailed me, April 15, 2010:

“I now have a lovely wife, 2 boys ages 10 and 15 and am living a healthy life. I will give you the advice I was given by one of my nurses while I was awaiting my transplant. As I asked him question after question about everyone else on the bone marrow unit and how they were dealing with it he told me, ‘everyone is different and their body handles things in its own unique way. The only thing you can control through this process is your attitude, you can’t control the amount of medication they give you can’t control how it makes you feel but you can control your attitude, and you must keep a positive attitude’…”

I thought about Scott’s words every day during my 31-days in the hospital (and every day since).  The days preceding my BM/SCT, my white blood cell count was driven down to ZERO (intensive chemo conditioning phase), i.e., no immune system. I was so physically and mentally anxious that I couldn’t relax, and couldn’t leave my sterile room.  I kept saying to myself, “An hour at a time, one more hour.” And somehow I made it. The Lord gave me the strength to endure and overcome this major, temporary discomfort.  The same thought process got me through the immediate aftermath, when I had severe mouth sores and couldn’t speak for two days.  Keep a positive attitude, day by day, hour by hour!

Scott concluded: “I was often told by people that ‘I can’t believe you went through all of that, I don’t think I could have done it.’ God chooses us wisely, choosing those who will give everything it takes to survive and no matter how tough it gets, never give up. We’re all put in these situations for a reason, and I can’t wait to hear yours.” Thanks again Scott!

YOU WERE MADE FOR A MISSION….

Over the past year, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to spend more quality time with Cheryl, Jacquelyne and Eva.  You’ve heard this before….when you are critically ill, and confronting your mortality, you think about what is truly important in your life and that is your family and friends, especially your spouse and children. From my experience, that it is very true.  Also, while my primary focus has been on recovering and regaining my health, I’ve embarked on my first personal mission, to become more involved in my church community, St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Irvine.  This is an important step for me in spreading the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ, including my story, i.e., He renewed my life on earth by saving me from the deadly grip of cancer. Recently, I’ve joined a men’s ministry (Christ Renews His Parish) and started to serve as a “Lector” during mass, i.e., read scripture to congregation.  I’ve teamed up with a group of terrific guys to “do good works.”  I’m also praying and thinking about ways I can support the community of cancer patients and survivors, and help promote greater research to discover cures!

ANTI-CANCER MAINTENANCE – RITUXAN INFUSIONS

One year later, I take quite a few pills daily, primarily to facilitate the engraftment of my new stem cells. I meet with Dr. Chen at least once monthly, and every six months, undergo anti-cancer maintenance therapy at City of Hope with weekly Rituxan infusions for one month. Clinical trial results reveal that, post-transplant, Rituxan may improve the likelihood of staying cancer-free by 10%.  Dr. Chen says, “anything that will increase your odds at least 1% to stay cancer-free” is worth the time, effort and expense.  Concur! 

Rituxan is the breakthrough drug for patients afflicted with many lymphomas and leukemia’s, and rheumatoid arthritis. Scientific explanation: Rituxan is a monoclonal antibody against the protein CD20. It specifically targets this marker (CD20) on the B-cells in which most Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) starts. Healthy B-cells help your body fight infection.  Monoclonal antibodies are mono-specific, i.e., the same because they’re made by identical immune cells that are clones of a unique parent cell. Given almost any substance, it’s possible to produce monoclonal antibodies that specifically bind to that substance; they can then serve to detect or purify that substance.

“Rituximab” as it’s more formally known, has been used by thousands of patients worldwide. It’s been part of a “chemo cocktail” administered to me a number of times – see the revised George’s Story for details regarding the 6 different chemo regimens, including Rituxan, I was treated with.

From a business perspective, Rituxan was developed by IDEC Pharmaceuticals and approved by the FDA in 1997 for Diffused B Cell NHL resistant to other chemo regimens.  It’s now approved as a front line treatment for Follicular Lymphoma. Rituxan is co-marketed by Biogen Idec and Genentech in the U. S.  It’s the 8th best selling medicinal brand in the world, with 2010 sales of $6.7 billion.

BARBARA ANN LIPINSKI MEMORIAL AWARD

Something near and dear to me…. As some of you know, with the help of several friends, we founded the Barbara Ann Lipinski Memorial Award (BALMA) in 1982. Barbara, a dear friend of mine from Trenton High School (THS), was tragically killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver, November 1981. I have yet to meet a more empathic, caring person.  Barbara’s passion was helping autistic kids. She had just graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in special education when she was taken from us at the age of 23.

Each May, at the THS Honors Convocation, a scholarship and award is presented to a deserving graduating senior. The BALMA is one of school’s most prestigious scholarships. Barbara is a true role model for these kids.  This is our 29th year of honoring her example. The criterion is based on: (1) commendable character, (2) strong academic standing, (3) financial need and (4) interest in a career assisting the less fortunate.  John and last year’s recipient present the award. If you’d like to contribute, please send your check to:

Barbara Ann Lipinski Memorial Award

c/o Julie Underwood, Counseling Dept.

Trenton High School

2603 Charleton Road

Trenton, MI  48183

All donations go to the recipient’s college tuition expenses. For more information, please contact Julie Underwood at 734.692.4540. Thanks for your consideration.

“SHOUT OUT” TO MIKE STOVER OF PROPELPAGES.COM

I want to acknowledge a very generous, thoughtful supporter: Mike Stover, Owner of Propel Pages at www.propelpages.com.  Mike’s responsible for this site’s “look and feel,” including redesigns and maintenance. Propel Pages specializes in building websites, and optimizing sites for the search engines. For over a year, Mike has donated his valuable professional services.  He has made it possible for us to conveniently communicate and share.  If you have any website needs, he’s your guy. Thanks Mike!

ENTERING NEW PHASE WITH HUGE DOSE OF GRATITUDE

Cheryl and I would like to take this opportunity to again thank those of you who donated a financial gift to help us meet medical expenses/financial obligations.  Your kindness and concern have been overwhelming! Now that I’ve had time to focus on some personal business, we’re now, fortunately, in a much more stable financial situation. You provided us a bridge to “today.” We’ll never forget your clutch support during this chaotic, stressful time.  We’ve been tremendously blessed by everyone’s prayers and encouragement – thank you! I’m very fortunate, and most grateful, to enter this new phase of my recovery. It’s extremely exciting, and humbling, to be given this second chance at life.

God bless you and yours,

George

“With God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

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