Melanie Stachelski suffered from a rare form of arthritis for nearly 10 years, which led to countless visits to the doctor to monitor her condition. During one of her regular appointments, her blood work indicated that her blood cell count was dramatically low. After growing frustration with her doctors, Melanie consulted a friend who worked at the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute (CBCI).
Her friend recommended an appointment with Jeffrey Matous, M.D., a hematologist who specializes in the treatment of blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma, and Medical Director of CBCI.
Sensing Melanie’s anxiety and fear, Dr. Matous met with her after office hours to review her blood work, explain her diagnosis and answer the many questions Melanie and her husband had. He confirmed that she had myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), which was evolving into Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and would require a bone marrow transplant as her only chance of a cure.
This is difficult news for anyone, but for the healthy, newly married 29-year-old, this diagnosis was a complete shock. Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) is very rare for someone Melanie’s age; it is normally found among patients in their 60s or 70s.
Shortly after her diagnosis, Melanie received a bone marrow transplant — but her journey didn’t end there. Following the transplant she endured four weeks in the hospital, 100 days of isolation to prevent infection, years of photopheresis (a form of therapy during which blood is irradiated with specified wavelengths of light) and other treatments for the many complications related to the transplant. Although this was a difficult time for Melanie, she said she trusted Dr. Matous “100 percent” and followed all orders and recommendations. This was understandable, because CBCI’s survival rate for AML, as well as their transplant outcomes, are higher than state and national rates.
“It really was a marathon, but we felt so cared for every step of the way. I really believed that Dr. Matous and his team were doing everything they possibly could to make me feel better,” Melanie explained. Since her diagnosis, Melanie has made changes to nearly every part of her life. She decided to change careers and returned to school to get her masters in health psychology with a goal to help other patients and families.
In other efforts to give back, Melanie joined the patient volunteer program at Colorado Blood Cancer Institute, sits on the patient services committee for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and volunteers for Love Hope Strength Foundation.
Unfortunately, as a result of the bone marrow transplant, Melanie is not able to give birth. But, just as Melanie’s strength and perseverance got her through cancer, she has pursued adoption and the couple is now awaiting their first child.
“I am still the same person as I was before leukemia, but I found my disease gave me purpose. It exposed me to the realities of life, death, illness and pain,” she said.