Hope, healing and harmony

Music teacher Patricia Hazen beats cancer with help from a brother who donated stem cells.

Patricia Hazen felt perplexed. As a music teacher, she knows when things are in harmony, and when there’s discord.

Normally a self-described “zing-zing-zing” person, she became an “energy-zapped” person.

And she’d have pain. Strange pain. One day in the legs, then a few days later in the shoulders.

She started having night sweats, which she hadn’t experienced since menopause.

“I never take naps, but I would come home almost every day and fall in the bed and sleep for a couple of hours,” said Hazen, 62. “My husband was perplexed. I was perplexed.”

She had recently started a new job, and thought her symptoms may be stress-related.

By October, a month after classes had started in the Reed City School District, Hazen’s pain became so intense she couldn’t even make it through the school day.

“I had only been at school for an hour and a half and I couldn’t take it anymore,” Hazen said. “I stopped by my husband’s classroom and told him I was going to the hospital.”

After multiple tests at Spectrum Health Reed City Hospital and at Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the reason revealed itself.

And it beat fear into her heart.

Immediate results

“My biopsy was scheduled for Dec. 4, 2014,” she recalled. “By the time I was halfway awake again, the (Butterworth Hospital) bed phone rang.”

The results were not what she wanted to hear.

The words reverberated, the diagnosis: Philadelphia positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a serious adult blood cancer.

Spectrum Health Cancer Center multispecialty team member Alan Campbell, MD, an oncologist, entered the room shortly thereafter.

“I remember him being there but I was kind of in and out of it,” Hazen said.

Chemotherapy treatments started two days later and Hazen remained in the hospital for two months under the care of the multispecialty team.

“It was a wild ride,” she said. “I think God really took care of us.”

She endured complications and setbacks. She had reactions to one of the chemotherapy drugs, which caused severe liver damage, according to Dr. Campbell.

At one point, she passed out in the bathroom and transferred to the intensive care unit with septic shock. Her blood pressure dropped to 37/12.

“One of the nurses was so worried she just wanted to stay with me,” Hazen recalled. “She stayed and kept an eye on me.”

Doctors determined Hazen’s best chance of survival meant wiping out her own immune system and transplanting healthy stem cells. She was referred to the Spectrum Health Cancer Center Blood and Marrow Transplant Program under the care of oncologist Syed Muneer Abidi, MD.

A chorus of caring

Two of her brothers and her sister came in to be tested as potential donors. They were not a match.

A third brother, Mike, flew in from North Carolina. He became a perfect match.

On June 30, 2015, Mike, a retired Air Force colonel who had recently lost his son, Pat, in a motorcycle accident, donated the life-giving cells to his older sister, Pat.

It became symbolic in a sense, a family symphony that will echo into eternity.

“Mike said, ‘I prayed to God, please let me be the donor,’” Hazen said. “It meant the world to him.”

Mike wasn’t the only one praying. Hazen received more than 500 cards and letters from former students and colleagues in the Chippewa Hills, Marion and Reed City school districts, her church family, friends and family.

“I could feel the prayers as I went through my ups and downs,” she said. “Some of those cards and prayers were from people I didn’t even know. Some messages were sent electronically through the system at Spectrum Health, where you can write to someone and choose the paper on which you want to have it printed.”

Hazen remained in the hospital until July 2015.

But now she’s free, growing closer to the life she once knew. Soon she’ll be able to work in the garden, go boating in front of their home on Townline Lake, and paddle the kayak that’s been in storage in their pole barn.

Despite Hazen’s life-threatening complications from one of the chemotherapy drugs, she is doing well, Dr. Campbell said.

“This took a long time to recover from,” the doctor said. “She showed enormous strength and courage during this difficult time and has now achieved a complete remission and is doing well.”

Both medicine and music helped save her.

“She was sustained during her long hospitalization by her family and her music,” Dr. Campbell said. “She had a keyboard in her room that she played when she was feeling well enough, and she enjoys playing the piano in the lobby of Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion.

For a person who became a music teacher later in life, in her 50s, Hazen’s life story is resounding still. She’s retiring this year, but in a way she feels young again.

“You have to have all your baby shots again after you’ve had your immune system killed,” Hazen said. “It’s the same schedule you do for children. Either I’m feeling really young or it’s my second childhood. I can’t decide which.”

Have you or a family member been diagnosed with cancer? Call 1.855.SHCANCER for a second opinion or consultation.

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