By EMMALEE C. TORISK
Missy Ginnetti began to tear up as she re-read a typed letter from her bone-marrow donor.
Sitting at her kitchen table, with her husband, Mahoning County Engineer Pat Ginnetti, across from her, Missy explained that she doesn’t know anything specific — a name, an occupation, a city of residence — about her donor. In fact, any bits of potentially revealing information, no matter how seemingly minute or insignificant, were blacked out of the letter.
What wasn’t, however, was her donor’s closing: “Sincerely, The other part of your marrow.”
“I wrote back, ‘Dear All of my marrow,’” Missy said, laughing.
It’s true. Within 30 days of her allogeneic stem-cell transplant in late March, Missy’s body had accepted 100 percent of the donor cells — something that often doesn’t happen for up to a year afterward.
Now, more than four years after Missy’s initial diagnosis of stage 3 Hodgkin lymphoma, life for the Ginnettis is beginning to move closer to normal once again. The next big thing, she said, is undergoing tests and scans within the next couple of weeks that will reveal whether “cancer cells [are] showing up anywhere.”
Missy noted that in early March, before her allogeneic stem-cell transplant, she had a completely clear scan. It was the first time that had ever happened.
Her first inkling of illness was what she thought were swollen glands. On June 10, 2010, she learned that lymphoma had spread from her neck into her chest, under her armpits and down to her spleen.
What followed in the next few years were several rounds of chemotherapy; an autologous stem-cell transplant, where Missy’s own healthy stem cells were collected and reintroduced into her body to replace the faulty ones; a short remission; and a clinical trial for a drug designed to target a specific protein found in Hodgkin cells.
She was scheduled for an allogeneic stem-cell transplant last fall as well. A scan beforehand revealed that the lymphoma was progressing, however, and the transplant was put on hold.
When Missy finally went to the Cleveland Clinic for the transplant in March, she did so knowing that she’d be spending a minimum of 100 days there. The actual transplant took place March 20, and in the following months, she endured a bacterial bloodstream infection, an intestinal infection and a bout with graft-versus-host disease.
But just 88 days after her transplant, her doctors told her she was ready to go home. After packing up “three months’ worth of stuff,” she left the Joseph S. & Jeannette M. Silber Hope Lodge — a program of the American Cancer Society that provides free lodging to cancer patients undergoing treatment and their caregivers — on June 19.
“I was so excited,” she recalled.
When Pat received the unexpected news, he, too, was thrilled.
“She kept saying, ‘I’m not going to spend one day of July in Cleveland,’” he added.
Even though Missy is back at her Struthers home, she still faces “a lot of restrictions,” many of them due to her no longer having any vaccinations. It’s like she’s “a newborn baby,” she said.
For one, Missy is supposed to avoid crowds. She can’t eat raw food. She’s been told not to clean her house and stir up dust.
She’s grateful, though, and especially to her mysterious donor; the two can exchange personal information a full year after the transplant date — something they’re both looking forward to.
Missy added that she doesn’t have any siblings, but that even if she did, their odds of being a match for her were only 25 percent.
“I don’t know where people like me would be if people didn’t donate,” said Missy, noting that she helped to put together a donor drive for the Be the Match Registry in May 2013. She’s hoping to arrange another one.
Potential donors must be between age 18 and 44 and be in good health. They also must have a willingness to donate to anyone in need. For more information, visit bethematch.org.