Showing Gratitude through Donation
A popular question asked to young college graduates is, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” For Alex Talbott this question seemed simple enough: happily married, studying dentistry, and a continued life of physical health and wellness, and for the most part all of these aspirations rang true. But along the way a pretty significant obstruction halted Talbott and his ambitions and forced him to redefine what it means to have patience, resilience, and determination. He also had to be steadfast in faith that there are people in the world willing to donate bone marrow and that one of these people would be the perfect match.
Alex Talbott grew up Missouri and led a pretty normal life rich with personal successes. He was athletic by nature, and filled his life with many sports including basketball and golf. Being part of an organized team gave him life, and his love for sports followed him to Pittsburg State where he played both football and ran track and would meet his future wife, Jamie. Together they would begin to build their lives, and eventually they moved to the Kansas City area where Talbott could continue to pursue his career in dentistry.
Then in January of 2015 Alex Talbott began to feel uncharacteristically fatigued, and his symptoms lingered for a couple of weeks. Alex and his wife decided an appointment was necessary, since they had indication he may have contracted mononucleosis. A trip to urgent care determined that was not the case, also ruling out influenza. The nurse practitioner ordered a comprehensive, complete blood count be done to ensure them that anemia was not the culprit. Within 48 hours Talbott was referred to an oncologist, and that realization alone left the couple shocked and sent their minds reeling. The diagnosis would follow just days later: Leukemia. He was 27 at the time. They instantly knew they were about to embark on the most challenging journey together as they prepared to take on a very aggressive form of Cancer with a chance of survival a grim 40%.
Talbott’s treatment was immediate, and he initially received a number of different types of chemotherapy in efforts to battle the Cancer. He was forced to take a leave of absence from dental school and gave his best efforts to remain physically and mentally strong. But with a form of Leukemia so combative, a bone marrow transplant was imminent. A donor match from Europe gave the Talbotts what they had hoped, and his transplant was scheduled. To prepare his body for the transplant, Talbott had to receive obliterative conditioning and extremely high doses of additional chemotherapy. May 20, 2015 became Alex Talbott’s day of rebirth. He remained in the hospital for one-month post-transplant and traveled to the Cancer Center daily for weeks following the surgery. It took months for him to reach a moment of reprieve, but thanks to the perfect bone marrow match, Talbott is currently in remission.
There is no denying the emotional toll that Cancer can have on any family, and Alex and Jamie Talbott are no exception. Optimism may seem an intangible dream some days while others positivity is plentiful. Jamie had to learn to balance working full-time as well as being Alex’s primary caregiver. But there was an enormous amount of support from their families. Add to this, simple gestures like a daily phone call from the Talbots’ niece, Elle, made the gray moments not seem so insurmountable. It was through these conversations that Alex was able to always find promise, even during times when his recovery was bleak. Elle, in some ways, was the permission he needed to feel joy. Another seemingly unrelated source of enjoyment was witnessing the Kansas City Royals conquer their own battles in every game that they played in 2015. The couple watched faithfully that year, and with each win the Royals accomplished, it made Alex’s victory not seem so farfetched.
But there is a grander movement that stands out as being a necessary component for Alex’s healing.
Bone marrow donations are one of the most charitable forms of assistance one could give, and being a volunteer donor may give someone a fighting chance. That is all Alex and Jamie Talbott were hoping. It is because of this gift, they are continuing their unpredictable, yet rewarding, days together.
How Can We Help?
Bone Marrow Transplantation has saved many lives. This treatment is very different than the traditional chemotherapy, radiation, and surgical therapies we may think of as Cancer care. The rationale for treatment of Cancer in marrow transplantation is to bring the donor’s immune system into the patient to hunt down the Cancer as if it were an infection. The immune system of the donor is what we rely on to kill the Cancer. It is, essentially, immunotherapy.
There is a shortage of bone marrow donors in the United States, and there are times we cannot find donors who genetically match our patients. It is especially difficult for ethnic minorities to find a donor, as they underrepresented in the registry. When we have more volunteers in the registry, we are more likely capable of offering the best possible source of cells to a patient.
Joining the bone marrow registry is quite easy. The first step is to visit the website, bethematch.org . After signing up online, a kit will be sent to your address which comes with instructions on how to swab your cheek and return the sample for testing. Joining comes with a responsibility, however. It is important to join only if you intend to donate if you are found to match a potential patient.
Bone Marrow Donation Information provided by Dr. Doug Myers/Children’s Mercy Cancer Center