Mary Robinson is a new person.
Sure, her exterior remains virtually the same, but her body’s constitution is extremely different following her Aug. 22 stem cell transplant at Nebraska Medicine’s Fred & Pamela Buffet Cancer Center. The decision to pursue a stem cell donor came in the wake of Robinson’s most recent battle with acute myeloid leukemia.
Robinson’s particular type of cancer is a fast-moving disease characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells that build up in bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells.
Robinson, a Fremont Public Schools instructor for the visually impaired, was originally diagnosed with cancer in August 2014, and went into remission in September 2014 after being told she had a 50-percent chance of living. The cancer returned in May of this year, and Robinson once again entered remission in June, however, without a stem cell transplant it wasn’t a matter of if the leukemia would return, it was a matter of when.
“They said that chemo would have worked for only so long,” she said. “Nobody knows how long, but eventually the chemo would have stopped working.”
Through Be the Match, the largest and most diverse bone marrow registry in the world, Robinson found a perfect stem cell match in July through a 48-year-old German male donor. Robinson was unable to find a perfect match through her one sibling, four children or anybody domestically, so Be the Match took its search worldwide.
From May through August, Robinson completed three rounds of chemotherapy. The first round sent her into remission and the final two prepared her body for the stem cell transplant.
“If they wouldn’t kill all of my cells – my bone marrow cells – then they can’t give me somebody else’s,” she said. “They needed me to be completely depleted so that my body would accept the new ones, and forget about my old body. It truly is a re-birth, I don’t know how else to explain it.”
After the 1 ½ hour stem cell transplant procedure, which consisted of putting the stem cells into her body intravenously, Robinson’s genetic makeup changed. Her blood type has changed to A-positive, and she now has the DNA of a man. She will have to be fully immunized again.
“It’s almost like I’m a baby again, I have to get all my immunizations again, just as I did as an infant,” she said.
Throughout the past months, she’s had to be extremely cautious about what, and whom, she is exposed to.
“I was even scared to have my four kids at home, to tell you the truth,” Robinson said. “If I was to get sick, my immune system isn’t working correctly so it could be really bad … My kids have been so great, but if they had a sniffle or a cold I would basically try to quarantine them, and sanitize everything.”
The immunization process begins six months after the bone marrow transplant.
On Monday, she received the final bone marrow biopsy she will ever have, and Thursday marked the 100th day following her procedure. Robinson currently is on a cocktail of antibiotic medications, and will remain on anti-rejection medications for six months, but as of now, it appears that the transplant is taking.
“My doctors already have called me and told me that there are no signs of leukemia, and that my bloodwork is looking really good,” she said.
For months, the emotional and physical toll placed on Robinson has been unimaginable. Following the stem cell transplant, all of the side effects started kicking in.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said. “I had graph-versus-host on my arm, so I had to get on prednisone; I had blisters and burning on my hands and heels. I had mouth sores, throat soars and other symptoms ... Boy, I didn’t know how hard it was going to be.”
Prior to reaching the 100-day mark, Robinson visited her doctor twice-weekly; and now she will visit once-weekly. In the near future, the goal is to visit the doctor once every two weeks, she said. Robinson added that if a recipient of a stem cell transplant doesn’t reject it within two years, they generally are in the clear.
“It’s definitely going to be a slow process, but I don’t care, because I want to make sure that I’m OK,” she said.
While the trials and tribulations are far from over, there is light at the end of the tunnel for Robinson. Her unwavering faith, loving family and constant support base give her a sense of true hope.
“That’s the big thing, I never lost hope,” she said. “I trusted that God would see me through it. Even on the days where I didn’t know if I was going to make it another minute, I thought, you know what, God is going to get me through it. I knew he was going to and I never lost sight of that hope. I think when people lose that hope is when things don’t go so well.”
Having an optimistic spirit makes a world of difference, she added. That doesn’t mean life doesn’t come crashing down at times, but she knows how to handle it.
“It’s OK to cry, I have my little bouts of crying, but I get over it, I wipe my tears, and I thank God for this day,” she said. “As my 10-year-old Shaylee says, If God woke you up this morning he’s not through with you yet. And that’s so true, because I know that I’m here for a reason, and God has saved me twice now. So I must have one big journey ahead of me.”
Steve Slykhuis and Capt. Stephen Hansen hope many people will attend The Pathfinder Chorus Christmas Concert.
Last year, the popular holiday event was cancelled due to bad weather.
And the Salvation Army — which benefits from the concert — felt the repercussions.
The local concert starts at 2 p.m. Dec. 16 in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 3400 E. 16th St., in Fremont.
Admission is free. As in the past, a freewill offering will be accepted for the Salvation Army, which helps area residents in a host of ways — from food boxes to a Summer Lunch Program and other youth programs.
This year’s lineup of songs — sung in barbershop harmony — includes many holiday tunes such as “Little St. Nick,” made famous by the Beach Boys, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “The Secret of Christmas.”
Many audience favorites include the sacred songs of the season such as “The First Noel,” “Silent Night” and a song both tender and triumphant, “Mary, Did You Know?”
Slykhuis, the master of ceremonies, noted an alteration made to the song, “Hallelujah.”
“We’ve added a verse to give it the more sacred Christmas feel as the original song was a bit more secular,” he said.
And four solo voices will add to the stirring song, “Do You Hear What I Hear.”
The festive concert also will include the traditional sing-along during the intermission.
A Salvation Army representative also will tell concert-goers how their donations help the organization.
“We’re often asked to give money to a cause, but it’s nice to hear how individual families are actually affected when we give this time of year,” Slykhuis said.
Hansen, the local Salvation Army captain, stressed the importance of donations collected at the concert.
The concert generally brings in about $5,000 each year.
Last year’s concert was cancelled due to icy and very cold conditions.
“We have guys coming from a 200-mile radius and it makes it difficult from a safety issue,” Slykhuis said.
Moreover, concert-goers risked slipping and falling on the ice.
The cancellation was a disappointment for chorus members.
“For many members of the chorus, this is their favorite concert and it gets us in the mood for Christmas — so not being able to perform last year really left a hole in the season,” Slykhuis said.
The Salvation Army noticed the loss, too.
“We were behind in our Christmas fundraising efforts and the generosity we’re normally accustomed to seeing from the attendance of that concert,” Hansen said.
People, who usually give at the concert, still wrote checks to the agency, but the loss still made things a little more difficult.
“Our main source of income through the year is at Christmas time. We’re dependent on the kettles (set up around the community) and the different fundraisers,” Hansen said.
Hansen hopes area residents attend the concert.
“It’s not only a really nice concert, it helps us to help those who might not be able to help themselves,” Hansen said.
The Salvation Army assists people in Dodge and Burt counties in many ways.
“We help with food boxes 12 months a year, five days a week. We run a Summer Lunch Program. We have youth programming through the school year and many other programs. We try to help people in the community,” Hansen said.
Slykhuis said many people have been asking when the concert will be.
“This concert, for many, kicks off the Christmas season,” Slykhuis said. “This time of year, we can get busy and distracted and stressed. This concert will make you refocus on why we celebrate Christmas, and bring some peace and joy to your heart.”
Slykhuis also said the Pathfinder group is one of the top 25 choruses in the world and has qualified to participate in international competition in July in Orlando, Fla.
“We’re pretty excited about that,” Slykhuis aid.
Those who miss the local concert also have an opportunity to attend one which starts at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16 at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church, 15050 W. Maple St., Omaha. Slykhuis said several Fremont area residents attend this event, the proceeds of which go to the Odd Fellows charitable organization.
Anyone wanting more information about The Pathfinder Chorus may visit: www.pathfinderchorus.org.
A group of local citizens is currently petitioning to place a measure on next year’s primary election ballot that would allow local voters an opportunity to share their opinion on the Costco-Lincoln Premium Poultry chicken plant.
On Friday the group of citizens met in front of the Dodge County Courthouse to collect signatures as part of the petition that would place a measure on the upcoming May 2018 primary election that would aim to obtain the opinions of the voters of Fremont about the plant that includes a chicken hatchery located at 1015 East Cloverly, a poultry processing plant located at 1325 East Cloverly, and an animal feed mill located at 2045 South Downing.
“We have asked the city, why don’t you do a poll of the people?” Local resident Doug Wittmann said. “We’re not trying to be intrusive or obnoxious, but we are simply trying to give the people of Fremont an opportunity to voice their opinion on whether or not they support this project.”
One sentiment about the petition and the Costco-Lincoln Premium Poultry chicken plant shared by the group of concerned citizens is that the project “isn’t a done deal.”
“Unfortunately it seems like there are so many people that say they don’t want it, but they think it is a done deal because of what is out there,” Local resident and petitioner Brenda Ray said. “I would like the City Council to know that no I don’t want it, so if we can get it on the ballot we can let them know that this what the people think.”
Randy Ruppert, executive director of Nebraska Communities United, was also collecting signatures for the petition on Friday.
Ruppert has been a vocal opponent to the Costco-Lincoln Premium Poultry chicken plant since it’s inception in a large part due environmental concerns about the plant as well as industrialized food production.
“Our (Nebraska Communities United) overarching concerns are with changing the way people buy their food, understanding where food is coming from, how important good wholesome food is, and how it doesn’t have to pollute the environment,” he said. “Also I was raised here, so this is my town and we are lending support to the Fremonters in any way we can to try and make a change here. This is about preserving the good life for everybody.”
According to Wittmann, the group is looking to obtain a minimum of 2,500 signatures on the petition and that if reached the measure would essentially be a way to poll local voters on whether or not they support the Costco project.
“We don’t want to cost Fremonters extra money to do a special election or anything like that,” he said. “This is just about getting people’s opinions so we can really know how people feel about Costco, whether or not they support it and whether the City Council is really listening to their constituents.”
If the petition were to gain enough signatures the ballot measure would essentially be an advisory question measure that would appear on the local May 2018 primary election ballot in which citizens would vote on the non-binding question.
According to Wittmann, the group plans to continue the petition drive at Barnard Park at Military and Clarkson Ave from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.