2011-04-14 / News

Rendon cancer cure result of adult stem cells

Daire Rendon Daire Rendon It is fitting that the theme of this year’s Relay for Life Roscommon County is “Christmas in July” because it was Christmas time a few years ago that cancer survivor Daire Rendon learned that she received a second chance at life.

Mrs. Rendon, the wife of Rep. Bruce Rendon (R-Lake City), hopes to attend the 24-hour Relay, set for July 9-10, if she is able. She’ll be busy helping with preparations for her daughter, Miranda’s wedding in August. (The Rendons also have another daughter, Samantha Pena, who lives in Mexico).

Almost five years ago, Mrs. Rendon was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma – one of the most aggressive types of lymphoma (blood cancer). She knows first-hand what it means to be sick. Really sick.

Getting diagnosed

In September of 2006, Mrs. Rendon, now 58, was noticing some things.

“I gained weight, all in my stomach. My back started aching,” she said. She attributed her symptoms to a possible kidney problem. “I couldn’t sit.”

When she went to a walk-in clinic, she was immediately sent to the emergency room in Cadillac. At first doctors thought her problem was ovarian cancer. She received morphine that night. The ER doctor sent her to Grand Rapids to see a specialist for the removal of a tumor.

But her problem was not simply a tumor that could easily be removed.

“It was everywhere,” Mrs. Rendon said of the cancer – below her diaphragm and wrapped around her intestines, uterus and other organs.

Over the course of the next several months she was in and out of the hospital. Her arduous path to recovery would involve more than chemotherapy – which itself ravaged her body – it involved searching for a stem cell transplant.

Mrs. Rendon said her doctors could have kept treating her lymphoma with chemo, but by May, 2007, she sat down for an adult stem cell consultation and underwent a variety of tests.

Stem cells from bone marrow have been used to treat leukemia and other types of cancer. In successful transplants, the stem cells migrate into the patient’s bone marrow and produce new, healthy white blood cells.

But before she could take the next step she needed to be “as cancer-free as possible,” she said.

Admitted to Karmanos Cancer Institute (on the grounds of the Detroit Medical Center), she stayed on the transplant floor, which maintains a controlled environment. She related it to the 1976 movie, “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” starring John Travolta.

She received intense chemotherapy. During the 10-day stay she lost 25 pounds and suffered from thrush (a yeast infection that can develop in the mouth and throat).

“They bombard you with this chemo,” she said, so the body is an “open vessel” ready for new stem cells. “You’re exhausted. It’s pretty nasty,” she said. “It kill(s) your old system and you’re building a new one.”

Cure from around the world

Her next hurdle to jump was finding an adult stem cell donor.

Because Mrs. Rendon has some Native American ancestry, that made finding a match more difficult (no one in her family was a match). However, three matches were found through an international computer database and the best was chosen for her.

Her stem cell donor ended up being from Stuttgart, Germany, and the blood was transported overseas to Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Because it is the donor’s choice whether or not to meet the recipient, all she knew about her donor was that his name was Oliver. She ended up using one of two pints of stem cell-rich blood he donated and kept one “just in case.”

“There is a big need to find donors,” she said. “It really is an easy thing to do.”

It’s a matter of filling out a Red Cross form and having blood drawn for submission to a testing bank to type it for genetic markers.

Extracting adult stem cells used to involve removing them from the bone marrow of a donor with a needle. Now, doctors use a drug called Neupogen to ratchet up the production of stem cells of the donor. The process of using a donor is called allogeneic transplant.

“It produces a voluminous amount of stem cells,” Mrs. Rendon said, adding it is more humane.

She pointed out that because everyone makes stem cells, patients with non-blood cancers can also use Neupogen to stimulate growth of their own stem cells. Such patients can have their own bone marrow extracted before chemotherapy. The process is called autologous transplant. The method provides for easier recovery, she said, because the body is not accepting a foreign host.

After the transplant, Mrs. Rendon said she still needed blood transfusions every 10 days to two weeks because her hemoglobin would get low. She also had to contend with the fact that her donor had a different blood type.

Then one day, after about six months following the transplant, her prospects changed. The day after Christmas, 2007, her nurse, looking at results from her most recent blood test, told her she had a new blood type. Hers used to be O positive. Now it is A positive.

“I said ‘thank you, Jesus,’” she said. “I was really one of the lucky ones.”

A new beginning

Mrs. Rendon’s adult stem cell transplant is considered by her doctors to be a success. It also relieved her of an autoimmune disease she had previously, Crohn’s disease.

She said she is considered cured.

“It’s a new beginning,” she said, understanding that nothing is certain in this world.

“You don’t know what life is gonna bring down the road,” she said. “I’ve certainly been blessed.”

The method that provided her cure is one she believes in. She said she would not have chosen such a cure if it involved using embryonic stem cells.

“It was a gift that was freely given,” she said. “It wasn’t something that was taken or created...We don’t have to take [stem cells] from embryos.”

The issue, she said, has “become a political football.” As a right to life promoter, she said, she believes that when society opens the door to embryonic stem cell research, it allows embryos “to be used for other things.”

She is living testimony that adult stem cell transplants work.

“We all have the opportunity of life,” she said. “These human bodies [are capable of] more than we know.. You can get your life back.”

Donating bone marrow “means so much,” she said. “It is a gift we can choose to give.”

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