Fargo leukemia patient using multiple services at RMCC

Four years after bone marrow transplant, Michelle Reitan continues to improve

Fargo leukemia patient using multiple services at RMCC

About four years ago, Michelle Reitan was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

She received a bone marrow transplant in Minneapolis, and since then has been treated at Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center in her hometown of Fargo.

Reitan has shared her story before. Now, as Roger Maris All-Star Week kicks off in 2024, she is cancer free.

“The experience I’ve had at Roger Maris is something special and something different,” said Reitan. “I think that they have the ability to make a patient a person and not a number. And that’s something that means a lot to me.”

Ongoing medical care

Reitan spent a good portion of her life serving her country.

She served in the National Guard for nearly 25 years, including a deployment in Oman after 9/11. She then went to work at the Fargo VA Medical Center to serve her fellow veterans.

“Many times, they’re a different demographic that doesn’t ask for help very easily. And when it comes time for their health care, they almost need to be nudged by fellow vets,” Reitan said.

Reitan no longer needs any nudging for her own medical treatment.

She sees Seth Maliske, M.D. monthly as she moves toward her five-year transplant anniversary—a milestone whereafter chances of cancer recurrence become quite low.

“Her transplant journey has been mostly marked by two things. Number one, full remission. So her cancer hasn’t shown any signs of recurrence,” said Dr. Maliske, a hematologist and bone marrow transplant specialist.

“However, she’s one of the people who, despite having an excellent outcome from disease status, unfortunately does have long term consequences with chronic Graft-Versus-Host Disease.”

Graft-Versus-Host Disease (GVHD) is a common issue for bone marrow transplant patients, in which the newly transplanted cells attack healthy cells as well as cancer cells.

“Some of the symptoms are dry eyes, dry mouth, but I had been experiencing a lot of body aches and pains. So, we went through some different medications and now I’m on a special medication just made specific for Graft-Versus-Host, and it’s working. So, I feel a lot better,” Reitan said.

Mental health is health care

Physically, Reitan is now able to enjoy things she couldn’t for quite some time, including gardening, which is a passion of hers.

While her leukemia and subsequent treatments have been taxing physically, a cancer survivor’s journey can be exhausting mentally as well. That’s why Reitan sees Chery Hysjulien, PsyD., a psychological oncologist at Roger Maris Cancer Center.

“She worked really hard with me to sort of develop those skills and allowed me to support her,” said Dr. Hysjulien. “Being diagnosed is extremely stressful. It’s life disruptive, and some diagnoses are even more life disruptive than others. It’s very common to have stress, fear, anxiety, depression, and if you can optimize your recovery by dealing with those things, we know it’ll help.”

“Every time I start to feel that anxiety building up and my methods aren’t working, then I just schedule an appointment,” Reitan said. “I can meet with her over telehealth or I can go in person and it really does help me to get myself refocused again and back on track.”

Roger Maris Cancer Center has helped treat Michelle Reitan in her hometown of Fargo for nearly four years and will continue to do so in the future.

Find more information about Roger Maris All-Star Week 2024.

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Posted In Cancer, Cancer Treatments, Fargo, Veterans