Feeling Fortunate: Jeff Cohen’s Lifesaving Bone Marrow Transplant

Holiday JPH 2012v3At the ripe age of 29, Charlotte rider Jeff Cohen was enjoying life with his friends vacationing in Costa Rica, not letting a few swollen glands stop him from extending his beach stay. After returning from vacation, Jeff spoke with his father, who was a physician, about his swollen glands and he suggested that Jeff see a hematologist. Test results indicated Jeff had an aggressive form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the young age of 29.  Initial staging indicated there was no bone marrow involvement, which was relatively good news, but Jeff’s chronically worried father said he should get a second opinion on the staging, and he obliged.  The second opinion indicated Jeff did have bone marrow involvement and was in Stage 4.

“How could that be?,” Jeff Cohen said upon hearing his diagnosis.  “I had just had a very complete physical 6 months prior and had a perfectly clean bill of health!  What do you mean there is no Stage 5?  I still felt just fine.”

At the time of his diagnosis, not only was Jeff trying to process that he had cancer, but he was trying to decide how to tell his girlfriend of only a few months. Jeff later came to realize his girlfriend always rooted for the underdog and she stood by him through the entire treatment process. Also, Jeff was very fortunate for having a worrisome father who insisted he look further into his diagnosis. Jeff spent the next year receiving excellent care at The Mayo Clinic.

“I recall leaving sunny Tampa, Florida where it was in the mid-80s and arriving in Rochester, Minnesota where it was -18 degrees – 100 degree swing, brrr.” Jeff said. “I rented a house in town and thought about those that did not have the means to travel to a world class institution to receive their care – I felt very fortunate.”

With each phase of my treatment the goal was to reach remission, with the end game being a successful bone marrow transplant (BMT).

“I placed my hope and faith in the hands of the world class clinicians,” Jeff said.  “But with each successive phase of chemotherapy, remission remained elusive – cancer can be tough that way.  I never really felt bad before I was diagnosed and quite frankly I did not feel too bad during my courses of treatment.  A little nausea now and again, and some days I was pretty tired.  I saw others around me that were not so fortunate.”

Of the treatments, radiation was the worst part of the process, but when finished with the treatments Jeff was finally declared to be in remission. The next step in the process was to determine if one of his three siblings might be a match and provide the necessary bone marrow for my transplant.  Jeff was fortunate to be the youngest of four siblings. The testing started with his brother who was the oldest, but  he was not  even close to a match.  Then his oldest sister was tested and received the same result.  At this moment Jeff was very worrisome, but was aware of the possible matches he could find  through the Be The Match Bone Marrow Registry.

“I remained hopeful that my other sister might be a close enough match,” Jeff saif.  “And as it turns out she was a perfect match.  My childhood sibling nemesis had just become my life saving “Marrow Maiden,” as she would be affectionately referred to thereafter. I again felt so very fortunate.”

This past July, Jeff celebrated his 17 year BMT anniversary with his wonderful wife (that girl he had only been dating for a few months, who stayed by his side throughout the process and all of the years since) and his 11 year old daughter who is the joy to their lives. Jeff felt very grateful that his father had the chance to get to know his granddaughter before losing his battle with pancreatic cancer several years ago.

There is a recurring theme throughout Jeff’s story – incredibly good fortune.

“I have had such incredibly good fortune, much more than most,” Jeff said.  “And because of that I have tried to give back and help others afflicted by cancer.  One of the ways I have done that is by participating in 24 Foundation for the past several years here in Charlotte, NC.  Be The Match is another amazing way that we can help those that are not as fortunate as I was to have had a family member that was able to donate their marrow.  A simple swab of the cheek is all it takes to be added to the registry and potentially save a life someday.  How incredible is that?  With very little effort you can be the good fortune for someone in need.”

For more information about Be The Match and how you can join the Bone Marrow Registry visit: www.bethematch.org. YOU could be the cure and help others like Jeff get the lifesaving transplant they need.