Its obvious your perspective on life has dramatically changed when youre feeling blessed to qualify for a bone marrow transplant.
SueB Earl, a Durango mother, physical therapist and avid outdoors recreationist, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia Sept. 13. There was little warning, and suddenly she was battling for her life and living on the East Coast, far away from her immediate family and support group.
Its a sometimes-heartbreaking story with ups and downs and trials and tribulations. But theres an underlying theme throughout: people sometimes friends and family, sometimes strangers stepping up to help out.
All the different parts of Durango that make Durango what it is have really come out and helped, Jim Earl, SueBs husband, said during a phone call last week from Baltimore.
An example: On Saturday, Durango Parks and Recreation and First Baptist Church will co-host the second annual Community Cares 5K running event, which this year has been dubbed the SueB Shuffle. Proceeds will help the Earl family cope with gargantuan medical bills and daily expenses made more onerous by the loss of one income.
Race director Ken Flint said the Earl family was a natural as this years benefit recipient. Last year, he said, about 400 people ran to raise money for the family of Teddy Rodd, a 10-year-old who had undergone surgery for a tumor along his spine. Teddy is well enough that he plans to run in this years event to support the Earls.
The 5K is just one of several fundraisers and offers of support that have come the Earls way. Jim Earls hockey friends held a fundraiser Jan. 27 called Hat Trick for Hope. The three-pronged event, at the Palace Restaurant, Cuckoos Watering Hole and the Abbey Theatre, was a huge success. The hockey folks are hosting another event, a silent auction, on Feb. 25.
Other support has come from what family friend Stasia Lanier dubbed micro-communities: swimmers, soccer players, dancers, teachers, SueBs former patients and strangers.
Jim Earl said he cant imagine how people without such a great support group can handle a similar burden. Hes been shuttling back and forth between Durango and the East Coast, leaving the care of their two girls Joci, a Park Elementary fifth-grader, and Elli, an Escalante Middle School seventh-grader in the hands of friends and family. SueB converses with them on the Internet via Skype.
SueB is an outpatient at Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, prepping for a Feb. 18 bone marrow transplant. Its not where she planned to spend her winter but a great place to be if you have leukemia.
Jim Earl called the doctors at Johns Hopkins, a renowned top-notch research and care facility, extraordinary. ... Everywhere along the line, you run into nothing but the best.
When the Earls mountain biked Canyonlands National Parks White Rim Trail over Labor Day weekend, the normally fit SueB felt horrible, Jim Earl said. That Friday she had blood drawn, and the results were worrisome. A second test the next day again pointed toward leukemia, a quickly developing cancer that begins in the bone marrow. The cancer grows from cells that normally become white blood cells. On Sunday, she met with an oncologist, and on Monday, a bone marrow biopsy confirmed acute myeloid leukemia. Its fatal if not treated, and it couldnt be treated in Durango. On Tuesday, Sept. 14, she was on her way to Virginia.
The 52-year-old had little time to prepare, but her No. 1 concern, Lanier said, was keeping her active girls lives normal.
I think the community support has helped her achieve that. ... Everybody wants to help, Lanier said. That support has helped her through every day.
A first round of chemotherapy didnt do the job, and complications developed.
We had to recover from that, Jim Earl said. It was clear from the genetics that she needed a bone marrow transplant.
SueBs Virginia doctor helped her find a spot at Johns Hopkins, and she began a second round of treatment in December. She entered remission Dec. 29, which meant marrow transplant was possible.
Shell begin the several-days-long preparation Saturday, as runners in Durango start out on the 5K course. After the Feb. 18 transplant with her sister as bone marrow donor SueB then will stay 60 days in an outpatient facility across the street from the hospital at the huge Johns Hopkins campus. If things go well, she could be back in Durango around April 18.
All she wants to do is come home. Thats our focus, Jim Earl said. It kind of breaks your heart sometimes.
SueB Earl once climbed Mount McKinley. She survived and thrived after several spinal surgeries for scoliosis. Shes a skier, mountain biker, river runner and master swimmer. Shes a tough chick, Jim Earl said. After a day of presurgery tests, she found the energy to send an e-mail for this story.
I believe the real story is the overwhelming, unsolicited amount of community support as soon as I received my diagnosis in Sept., she wrote. It has been VERY difficult parenting from halfway across the country, especially when not feeling so well.
And on her website she wrote this on Jan. 29: It sure is getting old being here, and I yearn to be home daily. ... Feeling very fortunate Im able to have this BMT.
Fortunate to have a bone marrow transplant. Thats counting your blessings.
johnp@durango herald.com John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.