After months of waiting, a Highland family has some good news — a potential bone marrow donor has been found for Denis Bellm.
“There is finally a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Denis’ wife, Shirley.
March 2 marked the first night Denis had slept in his own bed for almost a month and a half.
For 38 days, Denis stayed at the Siteman Cancer Care Center, a cancer clinic in St. Louis, where he recovered from an intensive week-long chemotherapy treatment. The continuous seven-day chemo treatment brought his immune system down to nothing to send his cancer cells into remission. He was then put through a regimen of blood tests and bone marrow biopsies which, according to Shirley Bellm, felt like a roller coaster at times.
“You had your up days, down days and your crash days, but that is just all part of the process,” Shirley said.
It was was all done to prepare Denis for a bone marrow transplant April 18, which could cure the myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) he was diagnosed with last year.
Finding a donor
MDS, also called pre-leukemia, is a bone marrow disorder that can only be cured by a bone marrow transplant.
The Bellms recently paired with the BeTheMatch registry to coordinate a registry drive in Highland to help find a bone marrow donor. Droves of people came out to support the Bellm family Jan. 10. The event registered 194 donors. It was a little while after the drive that the Bellms found out about the donors.
“We found three perfect matches,” Shirley said.
Considering the time frame, BeTheMatch told the Bellms it is unlikely Denis’ donor came from the Highland drive. The Bellms are not able to find out who the donor is until after the transplant is completed. All they know is their donor is a 27-year-old man, and he has agreed to help.
What comes next
While his cancer cells are in remission, Shirley said Denis has what his doctors call “fishtail cells” or potential cancer cells hidden in his bone marrow.
“It is very common for this type of cancer, which is why you have to have a bone marrow transplant, to get rid of those lurking cells,” Shirley said.
Denis checked back into the hospital March 10 for a few days to receive another round of maintenance chemo to make sure his cells stay in remission.
How is Denis?
After coming home from the maintenance chemo, Denis was home for a week before he ran a fever on March 20 and had to be readmitted to the hospital.
According to Shirley, Denis has been fever-free since last Thursday, but his immune system numbers are still low and are not coming back as quickly as his doctor would like. With the impending transplant, his doctors want to be as careful as possible and are keeping him until his numbers go back up.
As for now Shirley said that they are enjoying the care and company of the hospital staff, but they are still hoping that they can get home for a few days before they are admitted back into the hospital on April 11. Until that time, Shirley said that all they can do is stay patient while taking everything “step by step, inch by inch, and prayer by prayer.”
“I’m just pretty weak is all, not much durability in me right now,” Denis said. “Otherwise, I don’t have any deep pain or anything like that.”
While he is feeling weak, Denis said he is happy whenever he can be home. When Denis got home, his first missions were to size up his fruit tress for trimming, trade in the lawnmower, and start searching for a hog’s head for some homemade headcheese.
Shirley said that their main goal is to try and rest, so Denis can keep his white-blood-cell count up. However, the key word is “try” — hard work is something Denis has never been able to give up.
“What’s the point of being alive if you can’t do anything,” Denis said.
While in the hospital, the Bellms set up a work station for Denis, so he can stay in touch with his business, Broadway Battery & Tire Services. Shirley said, to keep his body healthy, Denis walked a mile every day through the halls of the hospital.
“I want to thank everybody for their prayers and concerns and for the outreach they’ve given me,” he said.
Anyone wanting to keep up to date with Denis’ transplant can visit the blog that Shirley is writing about Denis’ journey.