No visible symptoms
Alan Bowler from Ancaster had no symptoms, nor any other indication that his life was going to change drastically.
Alan and his wife Janet had their blood tested as part of a routine checkup in the summer of 2012. Alan’s results were slightly irregular, so he was sent to Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre for further testing. It was discovered that Alan had a condition called chronic benign neutropenia, which causes the body to produce a low number of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell that is integral to a person’s immune system.
“I was in shock. There was still no indication that I had an illness.”
“I was energetic and I was still exercising, running, swimming, scuba diving and riding my bike,” explains Alan. “There were no signs or indications that something was wrong.”
Alan was monitored for two years and underwent a bone marrow biopsy as a precaution in September 2014. Based on his test results, Alan was diagnosed with a form of myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of cancer in which the bone marrow produces an insufficient number of healthy cells, while abnormal cells known as “blasts” are rampant.
“I was in shock,” says Alan. “There was still no indication that I had an illness.”
Hope, in the form of a stem cell transplant
He began a year-long treatment plan under the care of Dr. Kylie Lepic to reduce the number of abnormal cells in preparation for a stem cell transplant. A donor had been found through the worldwide registry and the stem cell transplant was performed in October 2015.
“Some days I wake up feeling like I did before my diagnosis and other days it’s hard to get up in the morning. I now appreciate every day.”
The transplant was successful, but five months later Alan contracted chronic graft versus host disease (cGvHD), a condition that causes the donated stem cells to attack his body. The disease is affecting his skin, eyes, and lungs. Alan is on medication to control his symptoms and he returns to Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre frequently for ongoing care.
“Every day is a new adventure,” says Alan. “Some days I wake up feeling like I did before my diagnosis and other days it’s hard to get up in the morning. I now appreciate every day.”
Helping others through the same journey
Alan and Janet’s experience has motivated them to establish a peer-support group to help other patients and caregivers in their situation.
“We really want to emphasize how incredibly grateful we are for the teams who cared for us,” says Janet. “Dr. Lepic is an incredible hematologist and person.”
Alan and Janet were selected to represent Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre Foundation at Relay for Life Hamilton 2017 on June 9. In partnership with the Canadian Cancer Society, the event is raising $125,000 toward the expansion of the Adult Stem Cell Transplant Program.
“Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre is our second family because we spend so much time there,” says Janet. “We feel this is one of the ways we can give back.”
To learn how to register and fundraise for Relay for Life, please visit hamiltonhealth.ca/relay2017.