“I DON’T KNOW IF I’M GOING to make it,” she told me late one night.
It was the week before Christmas. I had been out at various events with our WNST sponsors and listeners for the holidays doing canned food and coat drives. She had been in and out of the hospital for several weeks after the initial 48 days during October and November. When friends and concerned listeners were asking, “How is Jenn doing?” I’m not sure that many really wanted to hear the truth amidst pretty lights, shopping, Santa and family traditions.
Eight weeks later, I can tell you that it wasn’t going well amidst the yuletide cheer and egg nog. From my view, it was awful. I can honestly say that I thought she was going to die. She was getting worse every day, literally disintegrating in front of me. But all I could say to her was: “Don’t talk like that! You’re going to make it. You’re going to get better!”
My wife has now been battling this insidious, rare leukemia through two wretched trips and 23 months.
Seven weeks ago she thought she was going to die. And, somehow, through some kinda miracle and a lot of prednisone and good fortune and amazing doctors and a donor who has saved her life twice, she’s now walking the earth cancer free, healthy and in remission.
We are blessed with good fortune even though this has been the bumpiest of any ride I could’ve possibly imagined two years ago when our lives were normal and joyful.
On December 22, her doctor admitted her back into “The Hotel” at Johns Hopkins after several weeks of agony and awfulness. She hadn’t eaten much of anything since before Thanksgiving. We were led to believe the most common form of graft vs. host disease would come via a skin rash. Instead, hers attacked her liver and caused her the worst malaise I’ve ever seen a person go through.
She was weak, de-energized, uncomfortable and getting worse by the day. On December 23rd she had an uncomfortable second day in the hospital and a terrible evening. And, suddenly, on the morning of December 24th she began to eat. First, it was some oatmeal. Then, she sent me out for a pizza after noon. Then, there was fried chicken and biscuits on Christmas Eve – mainly because that was the only food we could find.
At some point, I’m going to write a massive missive about what a disgrace “hospital food” is because me bitching inside the facility didn’t do much to move the needle.
It wasn’t easy spending Christmas Day together in a hospital room but at least we were together and it was the first day that she really turned the corner on survival. On December 30th she came home – for good, we hope – and has been eating egg sandwiches and walking on the treadmill almost every morning for six weeks.
Twenty three months ago – on March 20, 2014 – a team of doctors walked into her hospital room and told us that she had leukemia. Now in February 2016, she has spent 132 days in the hospital with two very separate and distinct battles with the same gruesome blood cancer.
Our now 22-year old angel donor is out there somewhere near Cologne, Germany. We expect that we’ll be able to find him on or around June 26th, which is the two-year anniversary of the first time he saved her life with a bone marrow transplant. He saved it again with a donor lymphocyte infusion on Nov. 19th.
I could write pages about what I’ve seen and what I believe and I already have if you’ve been reading. Many of you have followed our #JennStrong and #JennStrong2 journey and have inquired recently as you’ve seen her dramatic progress.
Last week, many sports friends in media and the football world all passed by my table by the dozens on Radio Row at Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco with the same question:
To be honest, I haven’t written an update over the past few weeks because I didn’t want to jinx or misrepresent the incredible progress she’s made since the beginning of the calendar year. What do you write when you witness such a miraculous turnaround from what felt and looked like gloom as recently as Christmas Eve?
Jenn’s blood is as strong as the healthiest among us. As a matter of fact, she has more red blood cells than most of us. Her liver numbers are now in the normal range. Her immune system appears to be functioning very normally. She’s on a handful of drugs but nothing compared to the 30 to 50 pills she was taking in any given day two months ago.
So, where do we go and what’s next?
Because she’s still on some immune-suppressing drugs to continue to manage and combat her GVHD, she’s laying low and staying away from most human contact just because of germs and the flu season. There’s no need to take on extra risk in freezing temperatures but the doctors want her to integrate back into “the new normal.”
She hopes to go back to work slowly sometime in the late spring. Her employer, Verizon, and her insurance company have been incredibly kind, patient and thoughtful during this second journey that took her to the brink.
Her hair is coming back more slowly than she’d like but she’ll be back to the pixie Mia Farrow circa-1968 look in a few weeks. She’s eating, sleeping, walking, talking, cooking, baking and watching a lot of junk food television as she gains strength and weight. More than anything, she missed our cat Kitty so much during her months trapped at the hospital. So, she’s getting reacquainted with our feline as well.
It’s weird. There is no “finish line” with cancer. There’s only daily gratitude and one more day.
Could it come back? Sure…of course it could. The doctors don’t seem to believe this is very likely on a statistical basis.
She is now a two-time cancer survivor and leukemia warrior.
She is the real beast mode.
I suppose my ongoing life lesson in all of this is to live life to its fullest. Why do I go to see Bruce Springsteen so often? Because I saw Glenn Frey die last month and you just never know…
For those of you who want to support us, we’re planning a massive event on Thursday, May 19th to celebrate her recovery and survival and to honor several members of the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. The event will benefit There Goes My Hero, a local survivor-based group of leukemia heroes who twice have come to my wife’s bedside with aide, support and wisdom to overcome this life-threatening disease.
Hold the date!!!
I’ll have more details later in the week but if you want to spend a wonderful evening with some great friends and get some Super sports inspiration, this will be an amazing way to kick off Preakness weekend.
At that point, you can even hug #JennStrong!
We’re very confident she’s going to be alive and well on May 19th. That’s far more than we believed or could’ve hoped for on December 19th.
As another Valentine’s Day has come and gone, we just want to remind you to appreciate your lives, your love, your time and your place on the planet.
We’ve been to hell – but we’re coming back – and a lot quicker than we could’ve imagined.
Jennifer Ford Aparicio is coming back to life.
We’re very grateful for your support and we hope to say hello to all of you who have cared enough to follow our journey this spring.
Thanks for the support. Keep the faith!
Love from Nes and Jenn at the Inner Harbor