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Sandy Richton

Update from Sandy: I have just celebrated  10 years since my transplant and 14 years as a cancer survivor. I have thanked my donor in Texas, my doctor at Dana Farber and my family for helping me reach this milestone.  It is because of their combined generosity, knowledge and support that I can celebrate this 10th birthday.   I also have had the great  joy of becoming a grandparent. The gift of  time that can be spent  with my  4 precious grandkids(with one on the way )are   reminders of how lucky I have been to have received such great care. There are so many that have not been as fortunate that we must continue to help find new medicine and help those struggling emotionally, physically and financially with these diseases.

In late 1998, Sandy was fifty years old and started to bruise, lose weight and experience hot flashes.  She took several blood tests, went through a few CT scans and eventually had a bone marrow biopsy. She was diagnosed with CLL, a type of Leukemia that is commonly found in older men, when these results came back.   

She worked as a gymnastics instructor at the Framingham YMCA since the early 1970s. Thankfully this diagnosis did not require her to endure immediate treatment and her CLL was monitored through blood tests.   Not only was she able to continue to work at the YMCA, but she was also able to work as a pre-school gym teacher at Framingham Center Nursery School. However, in the early summer of 2000, she had started to develop other symptoms including enlarged lymph nodes in her neck and abdominal area, night sweats and increased blood counts. She needed to start treatment at this point.  

Over the next year my mother bravely endured the treatment process.  The chemotherapy regiments were especially tolling on her because she had to go through three different regiments before one of the treatments actually worked. The first round was with six Fludarabine treatments and the second was with Cyclophosphamide, Vincristine and Prednisone (CVP), and neither could decrease her lymph nodes or change her blood counts. My mother remained positive even though these did not succeed. We followed her lead and also remained positive. Finally, by the third treatment of Cyclophosphamide, Doxorubicin, Vincristine, and Prednisone (CHOP), we received the results that put her in partial remission. It was this last treatment caused her to lose her hair and experience extreme fatigue.  She even received daily shots of Neuprogen to keep her white blood cell count at a sustainable level. 

Three years after my mother's initial diagnosis, her hair had grown back and she was able to attend my sister Jen's wedding.  

However, only three months after the wedding the lymph nodes enlarged again, and she needed to get a new treatment.  This time, she started an eighteen week regimen of Rituxan/Cytoxan/Fludarbine treatments. This put her back in remission, but the doctors were concerned that it would be a brief recovery stage. The human body can only withstand so many chemo treatments and we were worried that it would start to lose its impact. She went to Dana Farber where they suggested an allogenic stem cell transplant. My father, sister and I were tested but none of us were a match for my mother. Thankfully we found a match for her through the national donor registry. She was in the hospital for two weeks and on October 24, 2002 she had a Peripheral Blood Stem cell Mini Transplant from that non-related donor.  Even though none of us were matches, we all registered to be future donors. Nowadays it is so easy to become part of this registry and all it really takes is a simple mouth swab as opposed to the blood test that we took.  

The doctors and specialists instructed my mother to stay in isolation at her house for many months. She was only allowed to leave the house for her weekly visits to Dana Farber and she also had many diet restrictions since no one was allowed in the house except for immediate family, the first time my wife Kathy met my mother was in the driveway.  

Yet, through all this she never complained and continued to stay positive.  

Over the next few years she did encounter setbacks from Graft vs. Host disease due to the transplant, and had been unable to return to work. I am thankful that she remained in remission and was able to attend my wedding in 2006. She is currently doing well and she and my father Steve have even begun to start on of their longtime, favorite hobbies - traveling.  

My mother is involved with raising money, increasing awareness, and providing hope for those affected by this disease. She has spoken many times for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and our whole family has been involved with multiple fund raising activities including the Leukemia & Lymphoma walks, Dana Farber Marathon, and letter writing campaigns.  

Personally, I have learned invaluable life lessons from her strength and attitude as she battles her disease.  On day one, she faced this disease with a positive attitude and remains upbeat to this day.  Even though she endured a high level of physical and emotional pain from the treatments, I never heard her complain. Needless to say, she is an inspiration for me, my family, and hopefully the members of the community.  Our organization was founded to allow families to seek the same support and learn about treatments that allowed my mother to regain the life she once knew.  

I have grown to become a man who can appreciate life’s smaller gifts, and that is due to my mother. I hope that her story has the same impact on those who read it and inspires others affected by disease to share their stories. 

Article about Sandy Richton in the Metrowest Daily News:  

From Sandy: 

"This has been a big year, I turned 60. It’s been 10 years since my diagnosis and I celebrated my 6th birthday since my stem cell transplant. Without all the new research and medicines, these goals were not easily obtainable. Last year I learned who my stem cell donor was and was able to call him in Texas to personally thank him for his generous gift of life. I am enjoying my new “normal” life and grateful to be a 10 year cancer survivor."