October 28, 2022 | News, Patient Stories, Survivor Stories
Felipe is Running to Save Lives
Felipe Mendonca shares the story of his mother’s survival from blood cancer, and the three life lessons he learned from the ordeal.
In April 2013, I received a desperate, tear-filled call via FaceTime from my mom.
Initially, I thought she was missing her only child. I had moved to NYC just a few weeks before.
While she did miss me, that was not the reason for this call. I saw that she was crying and she told me, with excruciating pain and fear, that she had been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia. She was afraid of dying.
With that phone call, I knew our lives would be changed forever. Obviously, the long distance didn’t help.
The uncertainty of the disease was heartbreaking and my helplessness grew every day.
Fortunately, with the help of many friends, doctors, and our super small family, she plowed through the darkness. The fear, anxiety, and the disease itself did not discourage her. My mother is a relentless fighter.
However, the bigger challenge came almost a decade later.
On Thanksgiving Day last year, I received a very simple, but unusual text message from my mom: “I need to talk to you”. Within five minutes, we were both crying on the phone, unsure again of what the future would hold.
She could no longer grasp a glass of water by herself anymore. Taking a shower proved impossible.
After some internal debate, and with the unwavering commitment and support of my lovely wife, I took the next flight to Brazil.
The First Fight
What I saw crushed my heart. My dear mother had lost significant weight. She could not stand up any longer, extremely tired due to acute anemia. She could not sit down comfortably either, because she had a piece of her hip bone extracted for bone marrow work and analysis.
Just laying down was challenging due to numerous other complications.
Here I was, a 34-year-old son, looking at the very person that has always been my safe haven, my rock, and I was utterly useless to provide comfort or help. Her situation deteriorated to such a point that we had to hospitalize her.
After being hospitalized, she fell inside the hospital bathroom and hit her head. The fall caused blood to almost reach her brain. She became infected with COVID-19, got pneumonia, fungus in both of her lungs, and of course, leukemia.
The Second Fight
My mother was transferred to another hospital, with a new medical team, and immediately accepted into the ICU. The doctors were already preparing me for the worst.
I could no longer have direct contact with her since she was in the COVID ICU. I could only talk to her over the phone and through a window.
I saw life going away.
At that moment, I remember pausing and taking a very deep breath to ask for help. Please guide me; what can I say or do that would help get her out of that bed and back into my arms?
I told my mother, “I have done absolutely everything I could to help, and I continue to feel incredibly helpless. I cannot imagine my life without you. I cannot imagine seeing my WhatsApp chat, sending a text, and not receiving a response back because you won’t be there. I can’t accept this. I’m not ready for this. I need you to fight. I want you to fight. If not for you, do it for me”.
Believe it or not, she was out of the ICU in 4 days! Somehow, her super-mom powers were provoked! I was ecstatic! One big victory.
But not the main victory – the leukemia was still there and kicking.
The Ultimate Fight
Now we were off to the races to find a matching bone marrow donor. Unfortunately, I could not be her savior. Tests came back showing that I could create more harm than good, so we focused all of our efforts on the global registry.
We were blessed with a Brazilian soulmate.
We spent 49 days together, locked in a room, sometimes not being able to see daylight. It was tough, it was very challenging. None of us could sleep well. I only had so many clean clothes to were. Whatever I brought in my carry-on bag.
But none of that mattered, because, on July 5, she received her life-saving bone marrow transplant and is now in full recovery mode.
Thanks to the tireless work of her medical team; all the nurses, dentists, nutritionists, physical therapists, and cleaning team! And yes, thanks to that generous soul that stepped up to donate and save another life!
Why am I telling you all this? Because I wanted to share just (3) of the profound life lessons I learned during the darkest days of my life so far:
Life Lesson #1: Don’t take life for granted. Do not wait until you are inside a hospital room to live, to be grateful for your health, your clean clothes, your food, and your family.
Life Lesson #2: Don’t take your closest friends and family for granted. They won’t live forever. Be there for them, all – the – time! I had two of my best friends call or text me every single day during this 9-month period. One of them drove five hours unannounced, simply to give me a hug and show he cared.
Life Lesson #3: Don’t take actions for granted. Be generous and show your unwavering appreciation to everyone that supported you and your family. I was humbled by the life stories that my mom’s nurses shared with us and I went out of my way to make sure each and every one of them knew how much I appreciated their dedication
This is just a very abbreviated version of everything that happened to my mom in the past 10 years. One single life story. But can you imagine how many more lives are disastrously impacted daily by cancer?
I decided that I wanted to be a force for good, to spread good vibes, and have a positive impact on lives that are, at some point, like me in that ICU unit window – helpless, alone, afraid, and desperate for a miracle. I want you to be part of this force for greatness with us.
Very small acts of kindness go a long way (that hug from my friend that drove 5 hours was priceless).
I promised myself that if my mom survived in good spirits and health, I would run the Miami Half Marathon in January 2023 and fundraise to help increase awareness around bone marrow transplants. Through the recommendation of Dr. Luis Fernando Bouzas, the head of my mom’s medical team (and former General Director of the most prominent cancer institute in Brazil, INCA).
I have chosen the Icla da Silva Foundation as the recipient of all donations you will make throughout this process.
The Icla da Silva Foundation saves the lives of patients with diseases whose only cure is a bone marrow or cord blood transplant by providing emotional, logistical, and financial support to remove barriers to treatment.
For patients who demonstrate financial need, the Foundation provides financial assistance as patients work through their bone marrow, cord blood, or stem cell transplant and treatment.
They are a 501(c)(3) organization and all contributions are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.
VISIT FELIPE’S FUNDRAISING PAGE
Thanks for being a part of my journey to give back and help others.
Written by: Felipe Mendonca