Taking Care of Your Health

Patient Story: Relapser Recovers in More Ways Than One

March 17, 2023

Mary Sansone Art 640

Mary Sansone, Patient Advisor,
Patient and Family Advisory Program

I was living in a sober living home with two other recovering addicts. I was fresh out of rehab after an ugly relapse on alcohol that broke 20 consecutive years of sobriety. I was looking for a new job. I had been through a lot but was eager to experience sober life again. I then went into Moffitt for my six month checkup and came out with a cancer relapse diagnosis. I would need a bone marrow transplant (BMT).

In reference to the moment that my acute myeloid leukemia was confirmed through a bone marrow biopsy, Dr. David Sallman, my hematologist, thoughtfully reflected, "That was such a bad day." I still shiver when I recall his authentic compassion. Dr. Lia Perez, my BMT physician, delivered a wealth of information on what to expect with the transplant. She was not shy of delivering the likely side effects, like the details on graft-versus-host disease and the morbidity rates. This would be rough.

A painting of Mary, left, and her sisters Julie and Amy
Mary, left, and her sisters Julie and Amy painted at Moffitt in 2020.

My siblings were not a match for the transplant. The pandemic put a hamper on the search, but four months after induction, a donor was finally found. I later learned that she was a 23-year-old lady from Israel. On June 5, 2020, I received my transplant.

You don’t know how strong you are until you have no choice. The treatment kicked me in the butt, but I had a strong support team with my family, Moffitt’s people and their resources. Thank God!

What blew me away about my experience at Moffitt was that these busy experts acted like they had all the time in the world. Before each step of the treatment process, a physician or member of Moffitt’s clinical staff clearly explained what was to be done, why and how it could affect me physically. They would often use whiteboards in my room to draw pictures and define terms so I could comprehend complicated treatments. They were never patronizing while educating me. I felt like I mattered.

I am now two years post-transplant and am doing remarkably well while also remaining sober. Yay!

If you’re interested in using your lived experience as a patient or caregiver to make a difference the Patient and Family Advisory Program may be right for you. To learn more please email PatientAdvisors@Moffitt.org or call 813-745-2963.