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From Surviving Transplant to the Boston Marathon: One Myeloma Survivor’s Incredible Story
Posted: Feb 28, 2014
From Surviving Transplant to the Boston Marathon: One Myeloma Survivor’s Incredible Story image

It was a cool morning and the crowds of people were excitedly cheering on the marathon runners. There was amazing energy all around. I was celebrating life and the one-year anniversary of my stem cell transplant with my family. I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in April 2011. After a year of intensive chemotherapy, setbacks, blood clots, cancelled stem cell transplants and failed stem cell harvests, I was finally able to have a stem cell transplant in Boston in April 2012. I received that deathly dose of melphalan while watching the Boston Marathon on TV in my sterile hospital room. The strength and endurance of the runners was inspiring. I, too, was in the middle of a marathon of a different kind: the marathon for my life. Flash forward a year later and it seemed fitting that I celebrate my one-year stem cell transplant anniversary with my family at the Boston Marathon.  Some patients call it a "rebirthday" or a "transplantiversary.” We chose to watch the marathon at the Forum Restaurant where there was a fundraising event for cancer patients. We sat outside on the restaurant patio, sometimes kneeling high up on barstools, ringing cowbells and encouraging the runners to “stay strong!” and “keep going!”  I met nurses from Brigham and Women's Hospital and we chatted and cheered. A little before 3 pm, my son and husband were standing by the mailbox by the street and I was on a chair on the patio watching for a friend to run by to the finish line. We would later find out this is where the backpack containing a bomb would be placed. We realized our friend was not going to be running past us for another 45 minutes so we moved back to the restaurant. A few minutes later an explosion shook the building. We looked up the street and saw a cloud of white smoke at the finish line. Within 12 seconds, the second bomb went off. It exploded directly in front of us. I saw the fire and the huge ball of white smoke. I saw it blow my husband Michael off his feet and glass shatter all around him and then I was blown backwards and blacked out. I then felt that I was being picked up and dragged away from the entry. I realized something terrible had happened and someone was evacuating me. I panicked...where were my children and my husband? I soon realized it was my son, Ryan, who had picked me up and was yelling for us to get out the back. My other son, Jakob, was hysterical and terrified.  There was total chaos. We were pushed to the back exit of the restaurant. I felt blood tickling down my face and hand. I looked at Michael and he was bleeding heavily from his head. We took his shirt off and put pressure on his head.  He ran back into the restaurant to help. He rushed buckets of ice to the wounded. He did what he could to help and then the EMTs showed up and ordered everyone to evacuate. Tragically, two people died in front of the restaurant and many lost their legs. The police took Michael to the hospital to examine his head wound. I refused to go and leave my children. A few minutes later the police yelled at us to run as far away as possible as there was another device. We ran four more streets. We obviously looked extremely distressed because a kind Bostonian, Tom, came up to us and asked if he could help. A text finally came through from Michael-- he was at Mass. General Hospital. Tom said he would walk us there, which was a few miles away. We were reunited with Michael and were so thankful to Tom getting us to the emergency room. Thankfully, the doctor insisted on examining me, too. I was immunocompromised. She cleaned and sterilized my lacerations and put Steri-Strips on my face, instead of stitching, to hopefully minimize the scarring. She also removed glass from my hand. After we were both treated, Boston detectives interviewed all of us. Afterwards, we needed to find a way to get back to our car. We had parked it about 20 miles away and took the train into Boston. We were told the trains were shut down. We flagged down a cab and he took us to a train station. Michael checked and the trains were running but would not arrive for 45 minutes. Jakob panicked and said "I don't want to be here anymore, I just want to go home.” We had the cab drive us the 20 miles outside of Boston to our car and after an hour and a half, we were home safe. Jakob slept in our room that night. We know how lucky we were.  We were standing next to the exact spot where the bomb was placed only moments before it exploded. I feel like my children had their innocence sucked right out of them. They are growing up with a mom who has an incurable cancer and then witnessed a terrorist attack. It is more than any child should have to endure. I know the families that were most affected and lost loved ones continue to struggle with life-altering injuries and try to cope with the devastating loss of their loved one and we were so lucky to get back to our normal lives. But, then I remember, my normal life is fighting cancer…  

The author Jennifer Ahlstrom

about the author
Jennifer Ahlstrom

Myeloma survivor, patient advocate, wife, mom of 6. Believer that patients can help accelerate a cure by weighing in and participating in clinical research. Founder of HealthTree Foundation (formerly Myeloma Crowd). 

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