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Cathy Lipford prepares for a bone marrow transplant at the North Carolina University Medical
Center at Chapel Hill.
submitted Photo

Originally published: 2013-02-25 13:48:24
Last modified: 2013-02-25 13:48:24

Cathy Lipford prepares for bone marrow transplant

by Sherrie Norris

Cathy Lipford Adams has an 80 percent chance of beating cancer after next week's bone marrow transplant  -- and she couldn't be happier. 

Within the last four years, Adams has been told on two separate occasions that she has non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancerous disease of the blood.

The 49-year-old Boone resident is now preparing for what she and her family hope will be a lifesaving procedure at the North Carolina University Medical Center at Chapel Hill. 

Adams' first scare came in 2009 after the discovery of a large lump on her neck and one under her left arm. 

She was treated with chemotherapy and was in remission for nearly two years, until suspicious lymph nodes were once again detected in late 2011 during surgery to remove her gallbladder.

But the odds are on her side. She has found a match for the transplant.

Testing positive for the cancer once again led to another round of chemotherapy, Adams said.

"I've been on a maintenance program for the last few months until my doctors and I could decide the next best route to take. I was told that I had a slow-growing type of cancer," she said. "I thought it was kind of strange that the doctors decided to watch and wait, but chemo was not advised for the second time around." 

Six months after the second diagnosis, Adams' medical team suggested a stem-cell transplant. 

"Due to my health and age, they thought it was the best possible chance I had for a cure," she said.

While statistics indicate that 70 percent of individuals needing a bone marrow transplant don't find a suitable donor, she said she is very blessed because her oldest brother will be her donor.

 Knowing that it's very rare to have one good match in a family, she said, "I feel very fortunate that three of my family members were approved as good matches."

Adams and her brother, David Lipford, 54, a Pittsburgh resident, will be headed to Chapel Hill next week to begin preparations for the actual procedure. 

"He will have to be there for five days, receiving three injections daily through his stomach," she said. "On the sixth and seventh day, his stem cells will be harvested and then he will be hooked to a machine similar to dialysis, which will take blood from his arm, stimulate his blood and replace it." 

Adams realizes that taking two weeks off from work to share the gift of life with her is a huge sacrifice for her brother to make.

"He will never know what that means to me, and there's no way I could ever repay him for doing it," Adams said.

 Hopefully, she said, he should experience only mild side effects, such as joint pain and some tiredness.Simultaneously, Adams said, she will begin "serious chemo to wipe out my immune system" and prepare to receive new bone marrow.

A three-day stay in the hospital afterward, barring complications, may sound like a quick recovery, she said, but that's just the beginning of a lengthy journey to wellness -- and back home to Boone. 

"I am required to stay very close to the hospital for the first 30 days," she said. "Fortunately, I have a friend who I'll stay with in Chapel Hill."

For an additional two months, Adams must stay near the hospital, with continuous personal care assistance, and return to the hospital each day for follow-up. 

"To think of being away from home for about 110 days is a lot," but it will be worth it, in the end, she said.

Having been able to maintain a job until her medical team advised her to stop, Adams said she has tried to live life as normal as possible and goes about her daily routine with little, if any, problems. 

"To look at me, you wouldn't think I'm that sick," she said, adding that she knows that the cancer has begun to take its toll.

"What I have is often called 'the good cancer,' if there is such a thing," she said, and one that supposedly responds well to chemotherapy.

"I could keep going for a while, maybe, without the transplant and take chemo each time it comes back," she said. "But, regardless of how long I would be in remission, at some point it would return."

With the transplant, she said she would have "about an 80 percent chance of a cure." Good odds, she said, and a gamble she's willing to take. 

Adams' initial diagnosis came as a complete surprise to her, since there was no family history or risk factors to indicate the chance of the disease.

Those who know her best, including her family and close friends, say that she has a positive attitude about life.

"We know she will rise above this, too. She is a strong, courageous woman, " said Marie Osborne of Mountain City, Tenn., who is helping coordinate a fundraising event to help with her expenses.

With some health-care coverage, Osborne said, her friend will need much more than what is available to take care of her medical needs.

At the same time, Adams said she hoped that by sharing her story, that something she said would help someone else.

"In the future, I would like to establish a fund or foundation to help others and their families who are facing this kind of thing," she said.

Adams said that she feels so blessed to be given a second chance at life. 

"I have a strong faith that God is in control and will see me through," she said.