Make no bones about it: Sealing the deal with a bone marrow transplant

“I never once felt demoralized or disheartened, because I trusted my doctors. As soon as I was ready, the hospital made things happen very quickly. Even though this was my third bone marrow transplant, I never lost the feeling that I was getting better. I still feel as hopeful as when I first discovered that I had cancer.” Such is the confidence that Thitichaya Phuthannapalawat, a leukemia patient, has in the Horizon Regional Cancer Center.

Blindsided by leukemia       

Thitichaya was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 47. “I started feeling unwell and unhealthy in general. I had indigestion, and I was burping frequently. My steel factory was keeping me extremely busy, so I had very little time for rest. I was stressed out, but still thought that nothing was seriously wrong, that I probably just had a bit of acid reflux or something.” It never crossed her mind that she was making light of the cancer in her body, unbeknownst to her. 

“At first I went to see the doctor at a local hospital in Samut Sakhon. After the preliminary examination, they sent me straight to Bumrungrad International Hospital, which was reassuring because I had heard of the hospital’s good reputation,” Thitichaya recounts. “After an in-depth examination, treatment immediately commenced with Dr. Wichean Mongkonsritragoon.”

“I was shocked when I found out that I had leukemia” Thitichaya admits. “I was caught completely off-guard, as I had always considered myself to be a healthy person.” Had she been a smoker, she reasoned, she might have expected lung cancer, or liver cancer if she was a drinker. But as a non-smoking teetotaler who always takes care of her health and nutrition, the diagnosis made her ask “why me?”

Deep in her bones

The first telltale sign was liver enlargement, which continued to grow until she met with a hematologist. “Luckily, I was able to meet with a specialist who was able to treat my condition with pinpoint precision. Dr. Wichean assured me that though the going would be hard, a full recovery was achievable. This put me at ease straight away, and filled me with confidence in going ahead with the bone marrow transplant.”

Thitichaya told of her previous two bone marrow transplant operations “There was no pain at all. I could eat as normal, and the only side effects were a sensitive stomach and lethargy.” A stem-cell replacement therapy, otherwise known as a bone marrow transplant, sometimes requires a course of radiotherapy prior to the treatment, depending on patient’s condition and physical readiness. Then, the patient is placed in a protective sterile environment before stem cells are transplanted intravenously. “I hardly felt any pain at all. The worst thing about it all was being stuck in the room for the duration. It really bothered me because I don’t like to keep still. I’m the kind of person who keeps going places and doing things all the time,” Thitichaya confessed through a smile.

A surprise turn in treatment

The treatment went well, but through the course of follow-up appointments Thitichaya found that the cancer had returned and another round of treatment is needed. “For my third bone marrow transplant, my doctor told me they’ll be using the stem cells from my youngest son rather than the stem cells of my older brother, as we did previously. After the procedure, I hardly felt any side effects at all. I felt really good.”

“My son was really glad to have taken part in his mother’s treatment. He probably made more merit there than he would have done by becoming a monk! It made me very happy to see him so eager to take part. My entire family were extremely supportive; my husband would call to check on me three times a day, and would send me flowers too.”

Persevering through the limits

Thitichaya has this to say to fellow cancer patients: “for me, perseverance is absolutely crucial. You will need it when you’re cooped up in an isolation room, all alone, on the bed, for long periods of time. You can’t walk around or go anywhere at all. Sometimes you feel extremely weak, without the strength to perform even the most basic tasks. Through all of this, you must persevere. Break through your own mental limits, and you will reach the light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Most importantly, if you find out that you have cancer you must see the specialist straight away, no dilly-dallying. The readier we are in body and in spirit, and the readier our physicians are, the higher the chances of success for our treatment, and to have another lease of life with our families.”

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