Transplant program going strong 1 year, many patients later

Roger Maris Cancer Center transplants patient’s own bone marrow to speed recovery from chemo

Mature male patient gives two thumbs up while connected to a chemotherapy machine.

Just one year ago during Roger Maris All-Star Week in Fargo, North Dakota, Sanford Health proudly announced they would bring the region’s first and only bone marrow and stem cell transplant program to the Roger Maris Cancer Center.

One year later the latest transplant patient, Donald Peterson of Bismarck, is recovering from a successful procedure.

Difficult diagnosis

“We were on our vacation down in Colorado and I started feeling kind of tired. Then one day I just couldn’t go anymore, and I told Sandy, ‘We’re gonna have to go home early. I’m not feeling well.’ So we drove home,” said Peterson. “Two days after we got back home we were ready to eat our dinner, and I said to Sandy, ‘You gotta take me to the ER. I can’t move anymore.’”

Peterson was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer in which cancerous blood plasma cells in the bone marrow crowd out healthy blood cells. Peterson qualified for a bone marrow transplant, and would be treated by Dr. Seth Maliske at the Roger Maris Cancer Center.

“The type of transplant we do for myeloma is taking the stem cells from the patient himself,” said Dr. Maliske. “So the goal is to take the stem cells out of the body, freeze them away, and then protect them from the high doses of chemotherapy. The chemotherapy then treats the disease, and then after the chemotherapy is out of the body, we give the stem cells back to help rescue the bone marrow. It’s a way to help the bone marrow recover faster, and help minimize the duration of toxicity.”

Cancer treatment closer to home

For Peterson and his wife, Sandy, staying in Fargo for treatment was much better than going to the Twin Cities or Rochester, which had been the closest locations for bone marrow transplants prior to Sanford Fargo starting their program last year.

“We went back home and did a lot of high fives that we didn’t have to go farther than Fargo,” said Peterson. “The folks in the cancer center here have been super. I tell you what, the whole staff, including the janitors, are so great. And Dr. Seth, my goodness, he calls me at home and talks to me once or twice a week. Just a wonderful man. The whole staff is that way. I can’t imagine being any other place.”

Sandy Peterson said every nurse they encountered is “so kind and caring.”

“The minute we checked in there were two nurses sitting at the desk, and the elevator door opened and they got up and said, ‘Welcome! You must be Don and Sandy Peterson!’”

It’s been a little over two months since the transplant, which is an important milestone in any bone marrow patient’s journey.

“Don was actually our oldest patient we’ve done a multiple myeloma (bone marrow transplant) for, but he behaved as well if not better than even our youngest patients. He tolerated the transplant very well,” said Dr. Maliske.

Love and healing

Now Sandy and Don Peterson are planning a future that doesn’t involve trips to the cancer center, but instead allows them to stay someplace a bit further south.

“I love the Bismarck winters, but not the whole winter,” said Don with a laugh.

“We need to get him healthy so he can start hugging people again. So we can start having people stay at our house and start to share holidays and be back to normal,” said Sandy.

They plan on enjoying that new normal together.

“That guy, he’s pretty cool,” Sandy said about her husband. “He’s got in his mind that this is a healing journey now and that’s exactly what he’s doing.”

“She’s probably the best woman in the world,” said Don, with a tear in his eye. “She’s my caretaker. She’s been there every day. I was in the hospital, and she came and sat there all day with me. She goes to every appointment. She’s just a wonderful girl.”

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Posted In Cancer, Cancer Screenings, Cancer Treatments, Fargo, Transplant