Álvaro, my second birthday
Álvaro, the summer before his transplant
"Woaahhhhhh... I have only just registered as a member and already I have the opportunity to share my plan against leukaemia. The truth is that although I have told my story many times to friends, loved ones and other patients who have had the same bad luck, I feel that it is more worthwhile to talk about the normality of having been a haematology patient and to show that leukaemia is something that can come and go, that life returns and you can be reborn!!!
I am called Álvaro, I am 31 years old and eight years and nine days ago (the 9th January 2003) I was hospitalized in the Rio Hortega University Hospital in Valladolid having been diagnosed with AML (Acute Myeloid Leukaemia). Obviously this was a big shock for myself, my family (THANK YOU), and all my friends (to every single one I want to say a huge thank you again!).
In addition, to the huge emotional shock of being diagnosed with AML, you also might as well close your life for the duration and hang a sign that says "I'll be back in a while". In my case I was in my final year of studies on my Masters of Architectural Restoration and I had recently started an educational conversion (a pre-requisite for anyone who wishes to take the civil service entrance exams). So it was that on the morning of the diagnosis I had to return home and excuse myself from all the courses I was studying and contact my friends to organize for them to collect any important papers from the classes. After that I had to prepare a suitcase, call my friends and my girlfriend of the time... and tell them all that I had leukaemia. Scared and with literally no idea what was going to happen to my life, I entered the hospital the same afternoon. That day a friend said something to me that I have repeated a thousand times, "it's like flu: there is a process and then you get better". And he was right, it was a process that took ten months, then I got better!!!
When I entered the hospital I met Dr. Luis Javier García Frade (Director of the Haemotology ward), and he explained the process to me. He talked me through the chemotherapy, he explained the possible side effects and that it would probably end up with a bone marrow transplant.
That was the first time in hospital and it was followed by four more. I remember many details from that time: the blue pyjamas; the rota sheet my friends made; in agreement with my family, of who would be with me (I could only have three visitors a day because I was in an isolated room); the posters that I put up in the room (one of them is now hanging in my living room after I had it framed at the end of the whole process); the books that I read; the drawings I did; the music I listened to; musical chats I had with one of my doctors (Dr. D. Alberto Cantalapiedra) who is still my doctor today); the telephone calls from everyone (a special friend, who is also an ex-haematology patient); the conversations with my visitors (some of whom came from Asturias and Madrid to spend an afternoon with me); the puzzle I was doing and made my friend help with; being without hair; the laughter and the tears; the nights with my parents; the changes of season through the window;... and the huge motivation to fight; to survive, to overcome it and tell my story.
The treatment in general was more or less manageable. Before the illness I had been in good health, I didn't drink to excess, I never smoked, and since 18 I had done regular exercise and I ate a reasonably healthy diet, all of which I believe was a positive influence. Due to my earlier lifestyle I was able to avoid too many complications, apart from constant and heavy nosebleeds, loss of hair, swollen gums, stomach ache, vomiting (which was the scariest but the least frequent), and an infection as a result of not having any defences, but all in all it passed normally...
I went into complete remission after the third cycle of chemo (I think), but I kept the idea of having a bone marrow transplant. First of all they conducted, come compatibility tests with my family, to see if by some stroke of luck my only brother was compatible with me and GUESS WHAT!! He was....and so it was that we began to organise things for the move to Salamanca (where I met the Ascol Association) and we started to make all the preparations. However, a stroke of bad luck meant that my brother couldn't realize the transplant after being diagnosed with Hepatitis B. Although it was a big knock when things seemed to be picking up, the good thing was that my brother was made aware of something important he didn't know about. Following this blow, I returned to Valladolid for another two cycles of chemo and to finally undergo an autologous transplant. To realize the transplant they had to inject me with a growth factor which allowed the cells to pass into the peripheral blood and "filter it" and "clean it". This was a process they repeated once or twice more. The autologous transplant was carried out on the 4th of September 2003 by Dr. Maria Jesus Peñarrubia. That date has since been converted into my second birthday which I always celebrate in style. It has become more important even than my real birthday. So I am 31 years old but I feel like I am 7 going on 8.
What have been my plans? Well, fundamentally, to live as a 23 year old, and rediscover the things that I had to drop. Above all I want TO LIVE, and to enjoy completely, the good and the bad. I want to enjoy the little things in life that happen every day that do not get appreciated enough. I want to learn to look at things from a different angle. I want to thank all those who were there for me, the professionals (doctors, nurses, auxiliary staff), my loved ones (who cared for me so much), and the strangers (I am so grateful for their donations of blood and platelets). I want to thank them all for all that they did for me during the year of 2003, the year I was reborn (literally).
Once I could rejoin "my life" I got my driving licence, I finished my studies, I travelled, I took a postgraduate course at the university, I returned to the CAP, I continued my medical visits, (with everything continuing to be in order), I continued the journey, I found my independence and I began a new era in my life. There is not a day that goes by that I do not have strong memory and it makes me proud, there is no drama, it doesn't hurt to talk about it, actually I think that it helps both me and others, and it is good to know where north is from time to time.
I hope that this testimony helps those who are in this process and that they have hope. I want them to know that everything will get better and they will return to live a full life. My support, energy and love to everyone. Regards!"
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