It was a highly anticipated reunion, and hard-won: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s 26th annual bone marrow transplant (BMT) Thrivers event celebrated survivors and the MSK care teams who supported them throughout their journeys. Participants hailed from far and wide online on November 17, 2021, with many echoing the sentiment that they look forward to meeting again in the fall of 2022.
Kicking off the night was Miguel-Angel Perales, who is Chief of the Adult Bone Marrow Transplant Service, and Jaap-Jan Boelens, who is Chief of the Pediatric Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapies Service. Drs. Perales and Boelens shared highlights of MSK’s progress in the field of BMT and stated MSK’s ultimate goal: 100% survival, with true quality of life attached to that survivorship.
MSK is making great strides in laboratory research and clinical trials. And donations are the engine driving those advancements, as evidenced by the BMT network itself: Thrivers give back — be it through Cycle for Survival (the movement to beat rare cancers), Fred’s Team (MSK’s running program), or personal donations. Dr. Perales loves seeing his patients, like special guest Kimberly Hoffman, pay it forward to help current and future MSK patients. “You can’t imagine how inspirational it is for us,” Dr. Perales says. “For me, it’s one of the highlights of the year — the Cycle for Survival season.”
At MSK, It’s Personal
As part of the evening’s lineup, Dr. Perales and Richard O’Reilly, who is Claire L. Tow Chair in Pediatric Oncology Research at MSK, shared video chats with their own patients who had bone marrow transplants — and who are now thriving. The format allowed attendees to hear personal stories of challenge and triumph.
First, Dr. O’Reilly spoke with patient Sami Stanley, 35, who was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) lymphoma at age 18 as a high schooler. Sami, now a mom (who says she was “not supposed to be able to have kids”), was also joined by Farid Boulad, who is Medical Director of the Pediatric Ambulatory Care Center and was part of her care team. Sami recalled the “amazing care” she received at MSK: “I never questioned whether I was in good hands, and neither did my parents.”
Next up was Dr. Perales’ patient, Kimberly, the Cycle for Survival enthusiast. She recounted her journey: a diagnosis in 2012 with Hodgkin’s lymphoma while in college, treatment, recurrences, finding a donor (her mom), and recovery. At times, that journey “felt like one punch to the stomach after another.” But she came out of it strong. This year, Kimberly commemorated five years after her second transplant with a bucket-list skydive. She offered motivation to those beginning their journeys: “The power of knowing that I’m not alone in my journey — and no one who is going through a cancer diagnosis or treatment is alone in their journey — is inspirational.”
Finally, all attendees had the opportunity to enter “breakout” rooms, to mingle with members of the extensive MSK care teams and fellow Thrivers. Early in the evening, Dr. Perales had reminded, “As you well know, it takes a village.” Dr. Boelens echoed, with palpable respect, “Really, a big shout-out to all of them.”
To contribute to MSK’s mission for 100% survivorship, click here.