A Race Against Time
“Does your husband have any siblings who could donate white blood cells?” the doctor asked me when he met me in the hallway outside of Pedro’s hospital room on the eleventh floor of UCSF Medical Center’s Long building.
“He has a brother that lives about two hours away,” I replied. “Why? What’s happening?” I asked.
“Pedro’s white blood cell counts aren’t going up, even though he’s had platelet transfusions and blood transfusion. The yeast infection in his blood has colonized and it’s a race…” His voice trailed off.
A race against what? I thought. No, wait. I didn’t want the answer to that.
Just three months earlier Pedro had received a clean bill of health from his oncologist. After four rounds of chemo, Pedro’s non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was firmly in remission. The remission lasted a mere month before the cancer cells attacked again—this time crossing the blood-brain barrier and entering his spinal fluid.
In two months Pedro’s athletic 190 pounds had melted to an emaciated 130 pounds. His once expressive face had frozen in a permanently slack position as the lymphoma cells paralyzed his facial muscles.
In the past week, his condition had worsened. A few days after a particularly heavy dose of chemotherapy, a yeast infection in his blood had taken over his body—right when the chemo drugs had eradicated all of his white blood cells. He had nothing left to fight with.
A thousand miles away, the students and staff at the small private school where I worked had spontaneously gathered in prayer at the end of chapel service to pray for Pedro. Church members and friends of friends prayed for him as well.
In Need of a Miracle
I spent a tense day in the hospital. Pedro seemed unaware of much that went on, which frightened me more than anything else. At only one other time had he not understood what happened around him. I felt sure that the end had come.
That night he woke up frequently, and each time I buzzed for the nurse, she arrived within seconds (normally, the busy nurses would finish the task at hand before coming to Pedro’s room). By the time doctors did their rounds at ten the next morning, I had contacted Pedro’s brother and let him know of the possibility that Pedro might need a white blood cell transplant.
When I saw the same doctor in the hallway an hour later, I rushed over to him and said, “Pedro’s brother is in New York right now, but as soon as you give the word, he’ll fly back.”
“No one’s told you?” the doctor asked with a grin on his face.
“Told me what?”
“When we checked his blood this morning, Pedro has white blood cells! He won’t need a transplant because his body started producing them on its own two days earlier than we expected.”
“Seriously?” I closed my eyes and breathed a prayer of thanksgiving.
“None of us could believe it,” the doctor continued, “we’ve never seen someone’s white cells come back so quickly after chemo. It’s a miracle.”
Pedro, the Walking Miracle
The yeast infection in his blood took another painful week of experimental treatments to conquer—but with the miracle of white blood cells, Pedro survived the treatment.
The next month, his doctors declared that he had once again entered remission and could begin the stem cell transplant process. He spent a week at home at Christmas time before he headed back for his final round of chemo and the stem cell transplant.
Each day in the hospital he confounded the doctors by walking more laps than the day before and regaining mobility in his face.
“You know,” one doctor commented, “patients don’t usually gain weight and mobility this soon after chemo.”
A year later, when he returned for his 12-month check up, word spread around the office that the Walking Miracle had arrived. Doctors and nurses kept popping by the exam room to take a peek.
What to Do With the Miracle
When we experience a miracle, we often wonder what to do with it. How does the knowledge of the miracle change us, and does the change than require that we move in a different direction in our lives?
We believed in God and strove to do his will before Pedro got sick, so for many years we assumed that the miracle happened to influence someone else’s faith. And maybe that’s true—after all not many men of science use the word ‘miracle.’
The experience strengthened our faith and made us more aware of the precious gift of life. It subtly changed the way we viewed bad things that happened to us, and how we reacted when things didn’t go our way.
When our youngest daughter spent 18 months with an undiagnosed mental illness, I cling to the memories of Pedro’s miracle and knew that God would prove himself faithful once again—even if I didn’t like the results (we almost lost her a time or two).
I have learned that all of my problems are God-sized, and he wants to enter into my pain and suffering and fix the problems for me. As a fixer and a doer, this has been a huge burden off my back. I don’t have to fix anything. God will do the fixing for me.
While the miracle of white blood cells happened overnight, the miracle of God’s bigger plan takes longer to unfold. I like to paraphrase Micah 6:5b “Remember your journey from cancer to cure, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”
Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and History at a small private school for Native Americans. She writes about her caregiving journeys over at her blog Blessed (but Stressed) and about writing, photography and books at AnitaOjeda.com. When she’s not lurking outdoors looking for and photographing rare birds in odd places, you can find her hanging out with her husband, camping with her kids, or mountain biking with
her students. You can read more about her husband’s cancer journey here.