“You Can’t Let This Get You Down” | health beat

In 2020, towards the end of the summer, 65-year-old Colleen Ransome started noticing bruises on her legs.

She too felt tired.

“But I thought it was because my sleep had been interrupted,” said Ransome, of Belmont, Michigan. “I had a 17-year-old dog, so I got up at night to let the dog out.

“I thought maybe that was why I had a lot of bruising too. Knocking in the dark, you know.

She also explained that her medication, a blood thinner for a previous blood clot, had contributed to the bruising.

But when she visited her primary care physician at Spectrum Health for an annual physical and blood draw, those simple explanations fell through.

“I’m otherwise a heavy sleeper, but this late night call woke me up,” she said. “My doctor was alarmed by the blood test results. He wanted me to see an oncologist right away.

A Spectrum Health oncologist quickly made a diagnosis: acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

“It all happened so fast,” Ransome said.

Acute myeloid leukemia usually starts in the bone marrow, but it can also spread quickly through the blood and affect other organs. The disease causes bone marrow failure and the production of abnormal white blood cells. These cancer cells are called myeloblasts.

Overall, this type of cancer is relatively rare, affecting approximately 20,000 adults in the United States each year. It accounts for about 1% of cancers in adults but nearly 2% of cancer-related deaths.

The best option

Ransome was born in Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in 1957. She did not expect to return there at age 63, in search of life-saving treatment.

Sami Brake, MDDirector of Programs and Head of Section of the adult bone marrow transplant program at Spectrum Health, met with Ransome on September 21, 2020.

“AML is a very aggressive, high-risk leukemia,” Dr. Brake said. “We had to start treating Colleen right away.

“Conventional chemotherapy was not enough,” he said. “Statistically, it can cause a relapse in six to 12 months. Colleen needed to be hospitalized for induction therapy, so we could get her into remission long enough for a bone marrow transplant.

The treatment caused Ransome’s hair to fall out.

“And I was very tired,” she said. “But otherwise, it wasn’t too bad. I did laps around the hospital floor – four to six a day – trying to get through it.

Doctors discharged her from the hospital on November 6, 2020.

She then met with a number of the team’s collaborating doctors to make sure she could undergo the bone marrow transplant without complications.

“I met with an allergist because I’m allergic to penicillin and sulfonamides,” she said. “I met a physiotherapist to test my strength after the treatments. I met a pulmonologist, a cardiologist, a gynecologist.

“And I even saw a dentist, to make sure my teeth and gums were healthy enough,” she said. “And I had a bone marrow biopsy.”

The doctors helped her determine that a bone marrow transplant would be her best option.

A brother’s gift

A bone marrow transplant, or stem cell transplant, is a procedure that uses healthy hematopoietic stem cells from the donor to replace damaged or diseased bone marrow from the recipient.

“Colleen did not go into remission after the first induction chemotherapy,” Dr. Brake said. “She had to undergo a second induction to put her into complete remission before we could perform the stem cell transplant.”

While this aspect of treatment continued, Ransome’s brother Joe decided to donate his bone marrow.

“We collected donor cells from Colleen’s brother and cryopreserved them at the blood bank until it was ready,” Dr. Brake said. “Her brother was a perfect match. All markers matched for siblings except blood type. We then admitted Colleen to the hospital to condition her for the transplant.

The seven-day conditioning involved chemotherapy to weaken Ransome’s immune system. This would help ensure that his body would not reject the donor’s blood marrow transplant.

She underwent a bone marrow transplant on January 12, 2021.

“It was easy for me,” Ransome said. “Not so much for my brother. For me, it was like a blood transfusion.

Afterward, Ransome remained in the hospital for supportive care, Dr. Brake said.

“It can take two to three weeks,” the doctor said. “For Colleen, it took until January 25.”

It was then that daily blood tests finally showed that the new stem cells were functioning properly and beginning to rebuild the immune system. Doctors discharged Ransome from the hospital a day later.

“Keep your sense of humor”

In January 2022, Ransome had good reason to feel very hopeful.

“I reached all my milestones, until my one-year celebration when Dr. Brake congratulated me,” she said.

These days, she makes sure to stay hydrated as part of her skincare routine.

“I have to drink lots of water for my kidneys and liver, up to 80 ounces a day,” she said.

Ransome laughed when she mentioned the water intake.

“I always know where the bathroom is,” she said. “But I’m healthy now. I went from 14 prescriptions down to 2. I lost 40 pounds in that time.

“It is what it is,” she said. “You can’t let this get you down.”

She has resumed enjoying peaceful walks along the Rogue River near her home. And she also plans to visit her grandchildren, whom she was unable to see during her illness.

Her positive attitude played a big role in her recovery.

“Don’t let something like this get the better of you,” Ransome said. “Keep your sense of humor.”

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