For some kids with cancer, getting a bone marrow transplant can be a blessing, but for others it can be a curse. That’s because of a complication called Graft-Versus-Host Disease or GVHD, which not only causes immense suffering — it can also be fatal. Enter Dr. Melissa Mavers, a St. Baldrick’s Fellow who aims to stop GVHD in its tracks and help kids with cancer live long, healthy lives after transplant.
Dr. Melissa Mavers works in the lab at Stanford University Hospital. A St. Baldrick’s Fellow, Dr. Mavers is an instructor of pediatrics in the Division of Stem Cell Transplantation and Regenerative Medicine at Stanford University.
For a kid with cancer and their family, a bone marrow transplant can mean a clean slate and a new beginning. But it’s not easy. The procedure involves intense, high-dose chemotherapy and sometimes radiation, which wipes out the kid’s bone marrow cells and immune system. This forces them to remain in isolation at the hospital, so they don’t get sick.
“The destroyed cells are then replaced with cells from a donor to not only help rebuild their defense systems and their ability to make blood but also to fight any last cancer cells that remain,” explained Dr. Mavers.
Honored Kid Brooke was diagnosed with PH+ acute myeloid leukemia in 2015. She is now a survivor, but that doesn’t mean life is easy, ‘normal’ or back to a fraction of what it was like before cancer. Brooke explains…
(Left) Brooke during treatment after her 2015 diagnosis. (Right) Brooke poses for a photo during her first day back at school this year.
Cancer survivorship isn’t pretty. When I was diagnosed, I imagined that if I survived, my life after cancer would somehow be sweeter. Maybe I would appreciate the little things more or unlock some secret wisdom that would render me happier, more peaceful. This was believable through my first few rounds of chemo.
Then, I had a bone marrow transplant and became so ill that I spent five months inpatient post-transplant.
Over the summer, Abby’s dad shared some news with us: Abby was still cancer free, but her organs were failing. The doctors told her she had 48 hours to live. But Abby disagreed, and four months later, Abby’s mom wants us to know that Abby is still here — and she’s been busy!
Abby and her mom on the beach in the spring. Abby underwent a bone marrow transplant for relapsed Ph+ acute lymphoblastic leukemia in January 2015 and has been battling complications ever since.
It’s been four months since we brought Abby home.
We brought our baby home because the doctors truly believed that Abby was beyond saving and it was time for end-of-life care. All of the signs were there. To all of the health care professionals from many hospitals and specialties, Abby’s body was failing and we were doing more to her than for her.
Last month, we shared a glimpse into Abby’s life after a bone marrow transplant and the complications brought on by the very treatments that saved her life. Although cancer free, some of her organs are beyond repair. But even through these difficult days, Abby’s spirit remains strong. Her dad shares this update.
Abby with her family.
Thursday morning before work, Abby’s doctors called.
On the line were two of her transplant doctors, some intensive care specialists, a social worker, and a quality of life doctor. They suggested I come back to the hospital to be with Abby and her mom, although there was nothing emergent.
Abby is sick, they said.
Today is National Cancer Survivors Day, and we’re bringing you an update on one incredible 9-year-old: Abby. (You might remember her from this video.) Abby’s cancer free today, but for the past year, she’s been battling complications of the bone marrow transplant that saved her life.
Watch the new video to see why cancer free doesn’t mean trouble free.
Dr. Choi, a St. Baldrick’s Scholar, completed a phase II clinical trial testing a new drug to help kids with leukemia and other childhood cancers, and the results are encouraging. Help fund research like Dr. Choi’s. Get involved.
Kids with leukemia, like 2011 Ambassador Julia, sometimes have to undergo a stem cell transplant as part of their childhood cancer treatment. Graft-versus-host disease is a common complication of transplants.
For some kids with cancer, a stem cell transplant is their only hope for a cure. But stem cell transplants are very risky procedures. About half of all transplant patients will experience acute graft-versus-host disease, or GVHD, an often fatal complication where the transplanted immune cells attack the patient’s body.