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From Cold to Cancer to "Ironman" 3K

After a stem cell transplant at NCCC, Terry LeMasurier returns to walk at the 2013 Prouty.

Back row (l to r) Leah McLaughry, Luke McLaughry, Beth Button, Lucia Button, Joe Button. Front row (l to r) Jane LeMasurier (with David Webster), Ginger LeMasurier, Terry LeMasurier, Heidi Webster.

A lingering Christmas cold turned serious and led to Terry LeMasurier's diagnosis of myeloma, an incurable but treatable cancer. After learning about stem cell transplants at NCCC, he traveled from Virginia for treatment at NCCC.

In late December 2011 my dad, Terry LeMasurier, came down with a normal holiday cold. As often happens with seasonal colds, this one lingered around like stale Christmas cookies pushed to the back of the counter. It wasn't terrible; he just couldn't get rid of it.

His cold lingered on past the New Year and then quickly morphed into something much more perilous: a bacterial infection in the lungs so severe he was given a fifty percent chance of survival his first night in the ICU. The pneumonia was a consequence of a suppressed immune system. The suppressed immune system, our family found out that night, was a consequence of myeloma, an incurable but treatable cancer that none of us had ever heard of.

From Cold to Myeloma

After this diagnosis my siblings and I desperately searched Google on our computers and iPhones, trying to understand what this meant. We didn't know how to spell myeloma, and we certainly didn't know where it grew. Was it in the lungs, blood, bones? As we sat in the ICU waiting room, cancer suddenly meant that this pneumonia was a precursor to a long, hard, mental and physical battle. No matter how you spelled it, or where in the body it had taken hold.

From Prouty to Stem Cell Transplant

Soon after my dad's initial diagnosis my mother-in-law, Heidi Webster, formed Team Terry to honor him in NCCC's annual Prouty event. (Team Terry has recruited almost fifteen team members and raised over $13,000.) My parents came from Staunton, Virginia to participate in 2012. At the Prouty pasta dinner my dad met Kate Wilcox, a transplant nurse coordinator at NCCC. "She gave more information about multiple myeloma and the possible treatments I could receive than all the doctors I had seen at several hospitals in Virginia," Dad said.

Standing in the field at the Richmond Middle School attending an event that had, overnight, become so central to his life, Dad decided that Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) was where he wanted to receive his care. "I felt almost immediately from that first meeting with Kate Wilcox as though I was being treated as a person and not a patient," he explained.

Later that year my parents travelled the 700 miles from Virginia to spend four long, cold months as an outpatient at DHMC undergoing an autologous transplant, a transplant in which he received his own stem cells. The first collection took place in November, when his blood was drawn from a vein in one arm while his stem cells were simultaneously separated by a machine. The blood was then pumped back into his body through a vein in the other arm. When enough stem cells had been collected they were frozen and kept for the transplant, which took place in January. Three days before the transplant my dad received a strong dose of Cytoxin to destroy the diseased cells in his bone marrow. Following the dose of Cytoxin, a central venous catheter was inserted into him and a few days later the frozen stem cells were brought to his bedside, thawed, and returned to his body via the catheter. He began to produce new blood cells within about a week. This was a critical time for him, however, as he had little or no resistance to normal threats like the cough or sneeze of a visitor.

"Despite the word transplant most of the process was surprisingly simple and pain-free," Dad said. "The only part of the whole process that knocked me off my feet was the chemotherapy I received just before the stem cells were put back into my body."

Over the next few weeks his blood cells reproduced. For the duration of that time he stayed hunkered down in a warm hotel in White River Junction, wearing a mask and walking the halls with my mom, climbing the first floor stairwell to the second and back down as his body would allow him, all the while sealing himself off from outside germs and the frigid New England winter.

They lived in the hotel long enough to call it their home. "We joked that it was our mansion," Dad claims. "We had our own pool." But by February, when he was allowed to go home, he was ready for Virginia weather, walking outside with his dog, and not having to wear layers of clothes.

From Stem Cell Transplant to Recovery

Seven months after the transplant, my dad says he feels good even though there is still multiple myeloma in his blood. He gets dizzy and out of breath easily, but this is a common symptom of the cancer, and one that he's been dealing with since before he was diagnosed.

In 2013 Dad returned to the Upper Valley to participate for the second time in what he has renamed as the Prouty's "Ironman" 3k. "For me, at this stage in my recovery, a 3k is sort of an Ironman," he said.

In the past year-and-a-half he's pushed through a lot, mentally and physically. In comparison, the Prouty 3k this July was really just a warm walk around a pond—and a chance for my dad, a cancer survivor, to spend some well-deserved time under the sun.

By Jane LeMasurier

September 09, 2013