River Rock and Run … and Rejoice

At age 13, Amy Blumenfeld was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease.

After 11 months of chemotherapy, the symptoms returned. Her parents took her to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, where they were given two options: try more rounds of chemotherapy, or, as the doctors said, "take a gamble" and allow Amy to be the first adolescent with Hodgkin's to undergo an autologous bone-marrow transplant at the center.

As Amy recounts the story, her parents went across the street to a diner, and over a cup of tea, made the choice to go ahead with the transplant, knowing that the new course of treatment would either "cure her or kill her."

As a grown Jewish woman today, Amy has a huge amount of respect for her parents and the decision they had to make.

As a teenager, she followed the course of treatment they selected; in 1989, Amy underwent a double surgery, whereby doctors took the bone marrow from her hip and harvested it.

Thinking ahead, the doctors moved Amy's ovaries within her abdominal cavity out of harm's way from the intensive radiation. In May of that year, Amy re-entered the cancer center to receive her own harvested bone marrow. She remained in the hospital for two months undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, living in a reverse isolation room to protect her immune system.

While there, Amy managed to take her New York State Regent's exams.

Her high scores, she happily remembers, were due, in part, to the great tutoring she received from some of the hospital residents.

Amy has been cancer-free for 20 years. She is followed closely by a team of Memorial Sloan-Kettering doctors through mammograms, MRIs and biopsies as the strong levels of radiation that she endured put her at high risk for developing other types of cancer.

Today, Amy and her husband are the parents of a 3-year-old girl, Mia, who was born with the help of a gestational surrogate.

While the surgery and subsequent treatment did damage to Amy's uterus, her eggs remained healthy outside of the field of radiation. She is enormously grateful that her doctors had the "foresight to preserve her ovaries."

A Special Story
At the time of the surgery, recalls Amy, having children was one of the "least of her concerns."

But today, Amy has already begun to explain the unique story to her daughter.

After all, she wants Mia "to always be proud and appreciate how special she is."

Amy understands how crucial it is for cancer patients to get through their treatments, but once they are cancer-free, she says, "survivors may face other challenges in dealing with such issues as fertility, disclosure, health insurance and potential discrimination in the work force."

To assist with such issues, Memorial Sloan-Kettering has established the Cancer Survivorship Initiative Program to support survivors and their families with life beyond cancer, focusing on psychosocial and medical issues while providing consultation services, education and research programs.

Amy and her husband are board members.

On June 7, the program will host its third annual "Rock & Run on the River," a 5-K run/ walk and outdoor celebration at Hudson River Park's Pier 84 in New York City.

Amy and her family will be there as they continue to tackle "life after cancer."

For more information on the event, log on to: rockandrun.mskcc.org.


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