One Survivor’s Dream: Help Others Be the Match
Oct 30, 2021
Editorial Notes: This Halloween, Hunter's Heroes, a project by 22-year-old Hunter Ferguson, has joined forces with William Newton Hospital to get more matches through Be The Match®, a national registry for blood stem cell and bone marrow donors
By Hunter Ferguson, Hunter’s Heroes Founder
Not only has Hunter begun the process of helping others diagnosed with blood cancers, but she is also bravely sharing her story in the hopes of raising awareness for a virtual donor drive. Here is her message.
The past few years have been insane to say the least. The perception most people have of my journey is that it began with a diagnosis, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Like many other cancer patients, I knew something was wrong before I was diagnosed. In my case, I struggled through a year of testing before I was given any definitive answers. Throughout my journey there were people who thought I was crazy, thought I was being a hypochondriac, or thought I was just weak and unable to handle what most others could.
They were all mistaken.
My kind of cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, works one of two ways. Your cancer either grows very quickly or extremely slowly, and this can change at any time. It’s a crapshoot, and you never know which cards you will be dealt.
My cancer was the slow growing kind – lying in wait while plotting its course of destruction. To the outside world I was an overachiever who had a plan for everything, but on the inside, I had no plan for my future because all I could focus on was that something was wrong with me in the present.
Eventually, I learned this was my cancer mastering the art of deception, as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma can mimic the symptoms associated with an autoimmune disease. As time went on everything became harder to decipher as I started college, began my on-campus work study position, and battled mental illness. My struggle with anxiety led me to question every thought I had about what was happening to me. I had become so in tune with my body – the way I felt and what was going on in my head that I had to mentally shut down.
Looking back now I’m truly impressed with what I was able to do in my perpetual state of autopilot. I made the honor roll. I was learning so much at work and fundraising for my community. All the while I was constantly sleeping – never feeling rested – and shutting out the world.
Until something snapped me out of it. A little pea sized bump.
As soon as it popped up, it felt as if all of my concerns were validated. That’s when the tests changed. From then on they felt more urgent, more important. I was in a fight to find someone to believe me. Halfway through my first semester of college, my then undiagnosed illness wasn’t the only one good at deception. I had become a master. Perhaps the people who saw me daily noticed something, but outside of that small group of people I was still the same girl – an overachieving, honor-roll making, hyper-organized person. On the flipside, I was going to the doctor multiple times a month for over a year. I then graduated with my associate’s degree, began working 40-hour weeks, and landed a new job.
Nearly a month into my new job I was officially diagnosed with cancer. The diagnosis was something I feared, but was also the first answer that made total sense. I wasn’t surprised, but there was still some shock. I had survived panic attacks that made me feel like I was going to die, depression that made me feel like I wanted to die, and now I was facing cancer. This big, scary word that actually causes people to die.
After my diagnosis, I was numb. I did what the doctors said, without question. I showed up for the appointments, did the tests, and after nearly a year of aggressive treatment … remission. When I heard that word it was the biggest wash of relief I’ve ever felt. Of course it only lasted about three months.
Just when I started to feel some semblance of normalcy, I noticed some familiar red flags. More scans and tests confirmed my cancer was back; however, treatment would be different this time. Starting with a robot-driven surgery to remove a lymph node by my heart, then immunotherapy treatment, rounded off by a stem cell transplant.
I was lucky enough to produce my own stem cells, but not everyone is. Going through my transplant was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I knew where my cells were coming from. I can’t imagine having to wait for a donor.
I heard about Be The Match® before I was ever diagnosed with cancer. Coincidently, I was planning on joining the registry the week I was diagnosed. In my experience with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I learned you are forever unable to donate any blood products. This didn’t sit well with me as I felt strongly drawn to the Be The Match® organization, which brings me to my new pet project, Hunter’s Heroes.
How to Help
You can participate in virtual donor drive hosted by Hunter’s Heroes and William Newton Hospital if you are between the ages of 18-40 and meet certain health criteria. Simply register, wait for your free mail-in kit, swab, and return. To begin the steps to becoming a registered donor, text Huntersheroes to 61474 or go online at: my.bethematch.org/huntersheroes
The "Weekend Check-Up" is a regular health column published in the Cowley Courier Traveler penned by employees and friends of William Newton Hospital.
Posted in Weekend Check-Up Column on Oct 30, 2021