It’s not every day you get to meet a stranger who saved your life, but Larry Brown knows what that’s like. The 62-year-old mantle cell lymphoma survivor met his stem cell donor this past summer.
“It’s pretty emotional, when I got the info that he wanted to contact us,” Larry recalls.
After his diagnosis in August 2017, Larry received treatments near home in Watertown, but they weren’t working to keep his cancer under control. His oncologist suggested he come to Wilmot cancer Center, where he became a patient of Paul Barr, M.D., a hematologist, and Omar Aljitawi, M.B.B.S., a bone marrow transplant specialist.
Within a week’s time, the team had a treatment regimen in place for Larry. This plan took into account Larry’s age and aimed at reducing transplant toxicities and potential complications like graft-versus-host disease. At the same time, the plan gave him the maximum benefit from the transplant fighting back his lymphoma. It included a small dose of radiation therapy, planned in collaboration with Radiation Oncologist Louis “Sandy” Constine, M.D. Knowing his team provided an individualized plan that included the most current treatment recommendations meant a lot to Larry and his wife, Kathy.
“We thought it was amazing,” Larry said.
Once he agreed to the plan, his team looked to the bone marrow registry and fortunately found two perfect matches for Larry. One person had a few biomarkers that could be more beneficial for the transplant’s success, so they went with him. The donor agreed, and on May 30, 2018, Larry had his stem cell transplant. He appreciates the whole team at Wilmot that helped him through his time in the hospital.
“They always explained everything, exactly what I was getting, why I was getting this,” he says. “Every day the staff would come in and talk to you, even Dr. Al.”
During his stay, Kathy even took advantage of a caregivers support group meeting that took place downstairs from WCC6, where Larry stayed.
“That was a big comfort to me because I was so far from home,” she says.
Plus, they made so many friends, not only of the nurses and staff, but with fellow patients who were staying at the hospital at the time. They also met other couples staying at the American cancer Society’s Hope Lodge, a resource they were able to use when Larry was ready to be discharged but needed to remain in close proximity to the hospital.
“We met so many friends that were staying there, too,” she says. “We all just kind of shared and had a camaraderie about us and they offer so much there.”
Within a year’s time, Larry continued to do well and hoped to communicate with his donor, a young man who lived in Colorado. After the necessary paperwork and with the donor’s agreement, Larry learned his name: Braden Wilson.
Braden had joined the registry because of his fraternity, Farmhouse International. The past president had lost his daughter to cancer and he gave back by encouraging young men like Braden to join Be the Match.
And Larry’s so glad he did.
Larry and his wife, Kathy, were so excited to meet Braden. They made plans for Braden to come out to New York for a visit. He came with a friend and spent two days with Larry and Kathy. They went to the fish hatchery in Pulaski and visited LeRay Mansion at Fort Drum. They visited a number of waterfalls and enjoyed meals at restaurants.
Larry and Kathy bought a camper recently, and they’re hoping to do some traveling in the future, perhaps taking a trip out to visit Braden in Colorado next summer. In the meantime, they have their memories from Braden’s visit to New York, and the feeling you have being on the receiving end of compassion from a perfect stranger – although he’s no longer a stranger anymore.
“I wish he could’ve stayed longer,” Larry said. “We talked and talked, and it’s just amazing. He’s 26, was 25 when he did this, and you don’t hear about that nowadays. Hopefully this encourages more people. It doesn’t hurt to sign up.”