Science Care’s Team & Blood Cancer‍

Science Care’s Team & Blood Cancer‍

Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia, a rarer form of blood cancer, is characterized by an increase in immature white blood cells. Approximately every three minutes, someone in the United States is diagnosed with this type of blood cancer. 

The five-year survival rate for blood cancers has more than doubled since 1975, in part thanks to the generous gift of body donation.

For Ryan Stetson, Donor Services Training and Quality Specialist, blood cancer strikes close to home. When Ryan was 15, his father passed away from cirrhosis of the liver. His Uncle Lou stepped up and became someone Ryan and his entire family could count on for guidance and love. 

“Uncle Lou has a huge, generous heart and is always there to lend a helping hand,” Ryan said. “When I was having a hard time, he moved out to live with me as I got back on my feet. He also took me to my first Red Sox game, a memory I’ll treasure forever.” 

The stories about Lou’s generosity are unending. He served as the best man in Ryan’s wedding, flying out to take care of all the last-minute details. When Lou’s mom needed additional support, he bought a house and modified a room so he could care for her through the end of her life. 

In 2022, after three weeks of fighting what was originally diagnosed as the flu, Lou started coughing up blood. His wife Cathy rushed him to the ER where he was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs. Fearing a pulmonary embolism, they sent him to a bigger hospital. While processing bloodwork, his low white cell count prompted a bone marrow biopsy, which resulted in his diagnosis of Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia.

Lou spent the next month in treatment receiving blood thinners for the clots, platelet infusions, diuretics for extreme swelling, and several different chemotherapy treatments. 

“Uncle Lou remained positive, if not a bit stir-crazy,” Ryan said. “My Aunt Cathy was by his side every day, providing comfort, support, and Uncle Lou’s favorite home-cooked meals.” 

After the initial treatment, Lou’s second biopsy was mostly good news; the immature white cells that caused the problem were gone, but the gene that produced them remained in his system. This news is typical, as it can take more than one round of treatment to go into remission. Lou continued to receive chemotherapy treatment until he was officially proclaimed cancer-free. 

Although APL is a rarer form of leukemia, it is good news. The rarity has led to very specific and successful treatments for APL.

“APL is so rare that for most of my Uncle Lou’s treatment, he was the first case of APL that his caretakers had ever seen,” Ryan said. “The treatment is no less exhausting and debilitating, but the results are generally much better.” 

Ryan has been a member of the Science Care team for 12 years and is quick to explain that this feels like a career that allows him to make a true difference in the world.

Without the selfless gift of body donation, there simply wouldn’t be advances in medicine that have helped my family.

“Working with and helping real families going through the body donation process drives home how important body donation is for advancing medicine,” Ryan said.

Science Care donors continually play a key role in scientific advancements. Our donor community has contributed to numerous recent projects that focus on identifying biomarkers, developing diagnostic assays, and furthering the understanding of different types of cancers.

To anyone suffering from illness, we urge you to follow Lou’s favorite saying: “Never Give Up.”

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