Bone Marrow Transplant Recipient Reflects on Her Cancer Journey


Learn more about Kimberly and how she’s given back to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center after being treated.

Show transcript

Dr. Perales: So, hi Kim, it’s great to see you today even though it’s virtually. And I wanted to have a little conversation with you today about your journey, your experience through the transplant journey, and also obviously through your recovery. So why don’t you tell me a little about when you were first diagnosed, what that felt like and the treatments that you went through leading up to the transplant?

Kim: Sure. So, it was actually it was December 2012 when I came home from college for a winter break and for a little while I had had what I was convinced was like allergy induced asthma, but the allergist was just after all the testing was like I suggest you follow up with a pulmonologist. And just from a really quick exam and a chest x-ray he said, I suspect you have lymphoma, and the rest kind of just sitting in that chair in that moment is a little bit of a blur. My dad turned to him, and he was like if this was your daughter where would you go. And he without hesitation said, MSK. So it kind of just all happened really fast from there. It was a CAT scan then it was a meeting with the thoracic surgeon who did the biopsy that concluded that it was Hodgkin’s lymphoma. So, I began the standard treatment protocol for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which was ABVD. So, I did six rounds of that and it felt great. I feel like all my symptoms subsided and then the PET scan that August after I had completed those rounds of treatment showed that there was just this stubborn tiny bit of disease that remained in my chest.

So, I unfortunately was not in remission as I had hoped and thought I was based on how I was feeling. So couldn’t go back to school, had to do another medical withdrawal. I did the ICE with Rituxan essentially to prep me for an autologous stem cell transplant. I had that stem cell transplant in January of 2014. Things were looking good; I was feeling good. Again, thought that was that light at the end of the tunnel. Again, immediately after classes started, I felt something on my neck again. So unfortunately, had relapsed following that transplant and it was a few months after that I think Dr. Perales that I was then referred to you where I think we realized that the allergenic stem cell transplant was inevitable at that point. The whole journey kind of felt like one punch to the stomach after another. And so another punch came when the bone marrow registry couldn’t find a perfect or close to perfect match. So, Dr. Perales that was when you had suggested a Haplo transplant.

Dr. Perales: Yes, one of the options we have is to use a donor who is related to the patient and who is only half-matched. So, we were able to use your mom as the donor. We collected her bone marrow and then gave it back to you and we got you through the transplant. And as a result, today, your bone marrow and your blood is actually the same as your mother’s blood.

Kim: There are a lot of things that I do and say no where she is like it’s my cells because like my mom went down to the OR to have her stem cells extracted. They were bagged, brought up, and that was like my new birthday, and we’ve been celebrating that day for the past five years ever since.

Dr. Perales: You’ve also given back a lot to MSK and particularly with your work in Cycle for Survival. I’ve gotten to see you ride and talk a few times. So, I think you’ve raised -- you and your team has raised now over $60,000 for Cycle over the years. So, tell us a bit about the Cycle experience?

Kim: So, I got involved with Cycle shortly after transplant. It was a conversation with one of the social workers here at MSK. I was like, can I get on a bike and do this for four hours, and she had explained that it’s not only about that and what the day was like and what the movement was in terms of beating rare cancers and the funds 100% of them going straight to research at MSK. And I was like, okay sign me up. So yeah, I started in March of 2017 that was my first year. Now, we’re about to head into my team’s sixth year and the power of just like knowing that I’m not alone in my journey and nobody who is going through a cancer diagnosis or cancer treatment is alone in their journey. It’s just so inspirational to be surrounded by a room full of people who hope and want the same thing, which is a cure for cancer and better treatment options for rare cancers.

Dr. Perales: And it’s exactly the same feeling for me too. If you think it’s inspirational, you can’t imagine how inspirational it's for us. I mean, that’s what drives us too. I mean, it’s for me, it’s one of the highlights of the year is the Cycle for Survival season.

Kim: It is by far my favorite day of the year.

Dr. Perales: So, you did something very special this year I know, because this year you celebrated five years after your second transplant. And I think you had planned something that maybe your parents were not aware of but so-

Kim: Yeah, kind of I guess, you would call it like a bucket list item for me was skydiving. I told my parents I was heading out east to celebrate with a day at the wineries and called them from the ground after. My mom was and probably still is in a little bit of shock. But yeah, absolutely no regrets.

Dr. Perales: And Kim, now that you have five years behind you, what would you say if you met somebody who was just going through this now?

Kim: Well, so first I would say go to MSK if they’re not already there. And then I think a brave face and a positive attitude really do go a long way, because I mean, you can’t change your diagnosis, but you can change the way that you handle it and face it.

Dr. Perales: It’s been a privilege to take care of you as it is of all our patients, but it’s also been especially fun to watch you recover and do some of the crazy stuff so-

Kim: Well, thank you. You know, you’re our hero.