Beating Leukemia and Building a New Life

My friend Rob Meadows grew up on the move, the third of four boys in his family.  During his childhood they lived in a variety of states and even as far asNew Zealand, and through it all, his father was always there for him.  As Rob grew and pursued his education as far as a PhD, he knew his father was proud.  Which made it all the harder when Rob faced leukemia and his father was no longer there for him.

In 2008, Rob’s brother was almost killed in a car accident, left in a coma from which he would not recover.  For months his father went, visited, and waited.  Finally, his father gave up.  He made the arrangements for his son’s funeral, went home, went to bed, saying he was tired, and never woke up.  Rob’s father had died in his sleep of a broken heart.

Over the years, Rob got a PhD, and worked in the pharmaceutical industry doing research, investigating new drugs.  Through his work, he met his wife Vicki, and after returning from a vacation inItalythey learned she was pregnant.  It was a big surprise, but a welcome one.  As the months passed, the pregnancy progressed and Rob found himself tired and with a nagging cold, trying a variety of steps to get better but nothing seemed to work.  Finally, after talking with his doctor, Rob was referred for more tests and by November he was referred to an oncologist, which seemed odd to him for a case of the sniffles.  The oncologist immediately told him to get up on the table for a bone marrow biopsy. 

Bone marrow biopsies are not easy.  A large needle is inserted into your bone, and tissue removed for a pathologist to examine.  “I have to say candidly that had I not been married with a baby on the way, I would not have done it,” Rob said.  “I would have walked out.”

But having a baby on the way and a family that needed him changed things.  He got the biopsy and by December 1, his baby daughter was born.  While he was resting with his wife and newborn baby he got a phone call from his doctor. 

His doctor asked him three things:

“Are you at home?”

“Are you with family?”

“Are you sitting down?”

Those are not the kind of questions you want to hear, much less what follows.  His doctor told Rob that he had advanced leukemia, Acute Mylogenous Leukemia, and had about two months to live if something wasn’t done quickly.  Within hours he was on a table being prepped for chemotherapy, isolated from his family, as the treatments and the cancer battled for his body. 

He needed a bone marrow transplant, but nobody in his family were suitable donors.  The National Bone Marrow registry identified a match in the UK though, and soon Rob was prepped, his immune system intentionally destroyed along with the cancer, making way for a new immune system from his donor as the cells were jetted to San Diego, giving him a chance at a new life.

“The nurses hung the little bag of red cells and told me that this was my second birthday,” Rob said.

After the transplant his new immune system started battling with his body, leading to a high fever that spiraled out of control.  “It went on for days,” Rob said.  “I was packed in ice and given cold showers, but still the fever went on and on.”

After three days struggling with a high fever, Rob found himself letting go, unable to fight any longer.  He found himself sinking into a white light, and around him a white train station became visible, shrouded in steamy mist, and a train was waiting.

“The train was sitting, breathing white mist, waiting for passengers.  And out from the train came my father, Maynard.  It was the man that I had missed so much, every day, and whose passing had left such a void in my life and soul.”

His father looked concerned.  “Hey Buddy,” he said, reaching out to Rob. “We have your room ready.  It’s time to go.”

Rob wanted to go, felt the pull, but knew that he couldn’t.  There were people who needed him.  A new baby girl, who had just entered the world.  “There was still so much to do.  I have so much unfinished business both with my life’s work and with the people I love.”  

Rob turned away from his father and the train, returning to his hospital bed, fighting the fever and fighting for his health, a fight that still continues with continued immunosuppressants and bouts with graft versus host disease.  But having been through this, he told me that his life has been changed.  Having been given a new life, he’s determined to take what he has learned and make the most of his second chance.

“Every day from thereafter was a gift,” Rob said.  “I wake each day grateful to be here, and ready to make the most of it.”

And making the most of things means something different now than it might have once.  It means reaching out to help others.  It means talking to others who are up against their own great challenges, whether it is cancer, an accident, or some other life changing crisis, and helping them to have hope for the future. 

It was Rob’s story that got me started writing Gifts from the Train Station, work that he continues with the people he meets, and through our website at www.giftsfromthetrainstation.org.  I hope you get a chance to give it a look and get in touch, and tell us about your own story as well.  We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

Glenn Croston is the author of Gifts from the Train Station, now available on Amazon. 

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