I have been on an extraordinary, inspiring journey the past six years and eight months. This journey began with the surprising diagnosis of Acute Myeloid Leukemia or AML on September 14, 2005. In other words, I was told that I had the scary “C” word, Cancer. Needless to say, I was shocked, overwhelmed and frightened with this reality. This couldn’t be happening to me. After all, I was young, my health was excellent and I was very active. As I would later understand, this was the first of many lessons on a journey that changed almost every aspect of my life and how I viewed the world around me.
Like so many individuals that are diagnosed with a blood cancer, I had no thought that I might be ill. There were signs and symptoms of my illness but they only made sense after my diagnosis. This is common to many patients since there are no real predictors that determine the onset of the many and various kinds of blood cancers. These diseases are very indiscriminate in whom they touch and my diagnosis was not just specific to me but could happen to any of us!
I was filled with tremendous uncertainty as I faced my first hospital stay which started the day following my diagnosis. There were so many first time experiences affecting me and it seemed like every minute there was something new. There were blood tests, bone marrow aspirations, biopsies, pic line/central line insertion procedures, medications, and a constant monitoring of everything that was going on in my body while just as much was going on around me. And of course, there was the chemo. However, early in my journey, I realized that chemo would be my life giving ally.
My first round of chemo was successful!!! After 30 days in the hospital I was released in complete remission from the AML and for me, there was a sense of relief. However, for my future protection, my doctor and I determined that I needed a stem cell transplant to eliminate any future reoccurrence of leukemia. I had four additional rounds of chemo, which included another hospital stay and three rounds of chemo as an out patient, keeping me in remission while a donor was located. There were notable moments for me during the five rounds of chemo: some real lows and some huge triumphs along the way which taught me tremendous life lessons. Most importantly, on May 12, 2006, 8 months after my diagnosis, I was blessed with a stem cell transplant and a new start at life!
Dr. Fay, my doctor at Baylor Medical Center Dallas, allowed me to start working out on September 12, 2006. This was significant for me because it gave me back an important part of my life. He told me to start slow and that my body would dictate my progress. I took his message to heart. February 23, 2007 I ran my first post stem cell transplant marathon; the Cowtown marathon inFort Worth,Texas.
I found The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training while on the Leukemia and Lymphoma website one evening in March 2007. I went to an information meeting to learn more about the program and then to a Kick Off Event. The Kick Off was so exciting, encouraging and inspiring that I signed for the 2007 San Diego Marathon. The event was an incredible experience for me and set me on a path that has included three additional marathons; 2007 Dublin,Ireland Marathon, 2008 San Antonio Marathon and 2009 Rome,Italy Marathon. I am currently fundraising and training for the 2009 San Antonio Marathon. Training and fundraising with the participants from Team in Training continues to be such an uplifting and rewarding experience for me. The participant’s sacrifice and dedication continues to inspire me to do more. I am amazed at the transformation of so many of the participants from couch potato to endurance athlete.
I would not wish my cancer on anyone, but I sure wish that you and the whole world could know what I have gained on my journey. In the process I discovered and confirmed some useful and precious life lessons. It is my hope others will read, hear, assimilate and apply the life lessons I learned to their own lives. I would not wish my cancer on anyone, but my priorities and perspective on life have been changed forever. I am grateful for the many individuals that have touched my life on this journey.
Don Armstrong is a leukemia survivor having endured five (5) rounds of chemo and a stem cell transplant in May 2006. He is an avid marathon runner having completed over 20 marathons to-date. 10 since his stem cell transplant. Don is also an author and motivational speaker. He teaches others to win their race in all areas of life with courage, confidence, grace and a positive spirit. Don resides in Fort Worth, Texas. You or your organization may contact Don at Don@FinishYourRace.com or 817/ 917-5919 for information about his speaking availability.