A Wednesday donor drive could be just the ticket for a young Gainesville woman as she searches for a stem cell donor match — a cure for her cancer.
Kelsey Trusty Bishop was attending nursing school in November 2011 when she was hit by a sudden wave of extreme fatigue and dizziness one day. Following a battery of tests, Bishop, now 23, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
She started chemotherapy the next day.
“I had a great prognosis,” she reflected.
“I just needed to do the six months of chemotherapy.”
The National Cancer Institute defines AML as when the bone marrow produces abnormal blood platelets.
Bishop said she had no issues with the treatment, and the cancer went into a complete remission once the six months were over.
But, just over a year following the initial chemo, the news was not so positive.
“I found out I had relapsed,” she said.
At the time, she was 12 weeks pregnant and would be ineligible for the peripheral blood stem cell transplant her doctors said was necessary for complete recovery.
The doctors decided to do “maintenance chemo” to remove the cancer while Bishop was pregnant, and then move on with the PBSC transplant once she had the baby. The cancer went into remission again, but in May of this year, she had a miscarriage.
This, as she puts it, “changed the game.”
“Instead of looking at a transplant in October, we’re looking at a transplant in July,” she said.
She initially believed one of her three siblings would be a transplant match, but tests showed otherwise.
“We initially heard there were two matches, with my siblings,” she said. “We were so excited. But about a week after that, we got a call saying there’s been a lab mistake. Your siblings are matching to each other, but they don’t match you.”
After that devastation, Bishop turned to her physicians, basically asking, “What’s next?”
What’s next is this Wednesday, when Bishop is hopeful that a donor matcwill be found right here in Gainesville.
The donor drive will be held at the East Hall High School gym from 3-7 p.m.
“They’re going to ask donors some very pointed questions about their medical history, if they have any history of cancer or diabetes, or any type of blood disorder,” Bishop explained.
There will also be a painless, noninvasive swab taken of the inside of the donor’s cheek.
Approximately 48 hours later, doctors should know if there is a preliminary match or not.
“If there is a tissue match for me, they will contact that donor and ask them to go have a blood sample drawn to see how much of a match they actually are,” Bishop said.
If a donor is found, the next step in the process would be a two-week period where the person would be subject to a physical, and a couple of shots to increase their immune system.
Then, there would be the actual donation.
“It’s very much like giving blood,” Bishop said, “just a slower process.” She described a process of being hooked up to an IV, with the blood whirring through a machine, separating out what’s needed for Bishop, and what can be returned to the donor’s body.
She said that there would be no side effects from any of the process, except perhaps some soreness and body aches from the injections.
If no donor is found, there are a couple of “Plan B” options.
“Probably, we are going to look at some possible clinical trials,” said Bishop’s mother, Vickie Trusty. “There is a possibility that she has a couple of matches that are not perfect matches, so they may be considered, too.”
Trusty explained that there can be serious side effects to using a donor that is not a perfect match, most notably the new immune system attacking the recipient’s body, which is why finding a perfect match is so important.
To help offset the costs of Wednesday’s donor drive, a fundraiser was held Monday evening at Chick-fil-A in Gainesville. The fast-food restaurant donated a percentage of its profits for the event.
Before the return of the cancer, Bishop, a self-described Starbucks addict, worked in Gainesville as an accountant. She was active in her church, Airline Baptist.
“I just love to serve,” she said.
Bishop, along with a group of her friends, most recently formed the “square1” support group.
“It’s a ministry for young women who had children out of wedlock,” she said. “That’s really where my heart is, in serving others.”
While the family remains strong in their faith and optimistic about what the future holds, it has been difficult at times, both Bishop and her mother admit.
“It’s a bit of a roller coaster,” Trusty said. “It seems we get good news, and then we get bad news.
“But we try to focus on the goal (of a bone marrow transplant) rather quickly, because it’s wasted energy otherwise.”
Bishop leaves today for a beach vacation with her husband before returning for another round of chemotherapy next week. She said it was a difficult decision to not be at the donor drive, but it’s also an opportunity for her to get away from the world of cancer, even if only for a few days.
She remains positive about her prognosis, and what the future holds.
“This time around, it’s been a lot more emotional for me, because I think I realize the seriousness of it more,” she said. “But I also find it a privilege. This is the cure for cancer, for me. This is a privilege. This is not a bad thing, and it’s not the end of the road. This is what’s going to cure me, and going to give me a long, long, long life ahead of me.”