Three years ago, I lived on the BMT (Blood & Marrow Transplant) floor for about six weeks. That's when I had my stem-cell transplant and, as anticipated, I experienced a significant amount of "graft vs. host disease" (GVHD) issues. My transplant was on Oct. 25, 2012, and everything went as planned. I knew there would be GVHD issues but, wow, my brother's stem cells were really kickin' my butt!

Somewhere Over the RainbowPrimarily, my kidneys and my liver were having the roughest time. My creatinine levels were not good and my poorly functioning liver was giving me a rather orange-looking "tan" in November. The conditioning chemotherapy I received to prepare my body for donor stem cells left me weak and with no appetite. When I did eat, nothing stayed in me for too long. I was constantly cold, because I did not have a strand of hair on my body. I was always wearing a warm winter hat and a fleece jacket.

I recall one Sunday afternoon the patients on the BMT floor were invited to the lounge to hear a nice young lady play piano; she wanted to make us feel happy with music. After she went through her playlist, she asked if there were any requests. I asked if she knew "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from "The Wizard of Oz," and sadly that was not in her repertoire. That disappointed me, because on that particular Sunday I was feeling rather low and a bit hopeless. I was tired, weak, weary and emotionally drained. I just needed to know there really was something on the other side of this storm, and that a rainbow would shine in my life again.

There will be times in a cancer battle when patients and family members really wonder if there will ever be a rainbow again. When staring at the realities of life on any given day, sometimes it is very hard to stay positive and not feel hopeless. On that Sunday afternoon, the realities of my life were getting to me, and I was sad.

Once back in my room, my wife and I talked about my feelings and decided to do something positive — go for a walk to do some "laps" around the floor. Laps on the BMT floor were things patients had to do, and I was low in my daily count. Finding some extra fight in me to do extra laps around the BMT floor helped change my attitude and my thinking. That day, with my wife walking alongside me, I blew past my daily lap goal, and I felt better because I caught a glimpse of the rainbow.

When those sad days creep up on you and trying to stay positive just isn't enough, take steps to change your thought process. For me, walking around and knocking down one goal was enough to help me see progress. Later that evening, after laps and with a better attitude, I went on iTunes and found a good recording of "Over the Rainbow." After downloading it, I played it a bunch of times before going to sleep. I woke the next morning reassured that a rainbow would shine again. I hit my lap goals that day and every day thereafter.

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When did you experience a "low" in your cancer treatment? How did you get through it? Share your comments below.

About the Author

Paul J. Lawonn has more than 37 years of industrial safety and leadership experience and has provided consulting to more than 100 companies. Prior to his cancer diagnosis in 2005, Paul led the safety function at Harley Davidson’s Milwaukee power train operations manufacturing plant. His last position with Harley was corporate safety manager for compliance and employee training. He was diagnosed in 2005 with mantle-cell lymphoma but waged a successful nine- year battle and is now cancer-?free. Paul’s priority now is on inspirational and motivational speaking, writing, and coaching. He is particularly fervent about donating his time to charities that finance and fuel cancer research and organizations that provide assistance to cancer patients and their families. He’s written a guide to fighting cancer that he calls “Seven Steps to Persistent Perseverance.” 

Carrie Forster

Thank you for sharing your experience, and sharing hope. My son will have his own stem cells harvested tomorrow, and his transplant in a few weeks. It's inspiring to hear from those you have been through it.