Reading Someone's Memoir About My Blood Cancer

A Review of Delia Ephron's Left on Tenth, A Second Chance at Life

What would I, a retired teacher from Oklahoma, possibly have in common with well-known authors and screenplay writers Nora and Delia Ephron? Blood cancer?

A memoir of a literary family

Left on Tenth, A Second Chance at Life is screenwriter Delia Ephron's story of losing her sister, best-selling author Nora Ephron, to acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) in 2012 at 71. Then three years later, her husband Jerry Kass, also a successful screen writer, died from prostate cancer.

Nora was first diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), which I have. Myelodysplastic syndromes are a group of bone marrow failure disorders. Myelo refers to the bone marrow. Dysplastic means abnormal growth or development. In MDS, the bone marrow does not make blood cells normally. The result is too few cells and poorly functioning cells.

Acute myelogenous (my-uh-LOHJ-uh-nus) leukemia or AML is a blood and bone marrow cancer. The word acute denotes the disease's rapid progression, and leukemia because it affects a group of white blood cells. MDS progresses to AML in approximately one-third of patients.

A new romance?

In 2016, things were looking up for Delia. She reconnected with Peter, someone she had briefly dated fifty-four years before! As Peter explained, Nora had introduced them when they were college students. Peter and Delia exchanged emails, texts, and phone calls before meeting in person. Delia felt young again. 

Then, five months later, Delia was diagnosed with AML. What did the doctors say to her? "You are not your sister." They explained that her disease under a microscope differed from Nora's, so she could have a different outcome.

"AML is like Whac-a-Mole," the doctor said. "You knock it down in one place, and it pops up in another." So the doctors could see that chemotherapy was effective in a temporary way. "The only thing that will cure AML is a bone marrow transplant." (A bone marrow transplant is also called a stem cell transplant.)

But I don't have a match!

Remembering Nora's experience, Delia said, "I don't have a match." But luckily, there were some new advances in the treatment of AML. "A transplant is a year of your life," a physician assistant said. "Then you are fine."

Delia, however, was aware of graft-versus-host disease. If you get a stem cell transplant from a donor who wasn't a good match, the body tries to reject the new morrow in all sorts of awful ways. Symptoms are terrible rashes, fevers, migraines, pneumonia, stomach problems, and heart problems, to name a few! Oh, Delia, I would hesitate, too.

Don't be afraid of the treatment. Be afraid of leukemia!

"Don't be afraid of the treatment. Be afraid of leukemia!" the doctors said. Delia was fortunate to have Peter and other supportive friends. Peter and Delia married in the hospital chapel while she was undergoing treatment. Isn't that cool?

Delia had to pass many tests to qualify for the transplant, most in the same morning! There were blood tests, bone density, a CT scan, an echocardiogram, a pulmonary function test, and an MRI. In addition, Delia had to meet with the hospital social worker. She even had to visit her dentist and get a note that her mouth was trouble-free. She also had to see her dermatologist to check for misbehaving moles.

A Donor from Niceville!

Delia's donor was Casey, a young woman from Niceville, Florida, which is ironic because after they started communicating a year after the transplant, Delia said, "She couldn't have been nicer."

Casey applied to be a donor with DKMS: We Delete Blood Cancer, an international bone marrow donor center originating in Germany. Delia and Casey were strangers who bonded over Casey's generous life-saving donation.

You may be wondering about the title's meaning, Left on Tenth. It is a double entendre referencing abandonment and directions to her Greenwich Village apartment. Delia felt left when her husband Jerry died, and her life took many left turns. Gee, somebody should make this story into a movie!

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