Written by: Sue Ross

Charlie Ross with clinical research coordinators Ryan Scannura and Rachel Freeby

Charlie Ross with clinical research coordinators Ryan Scannura and Rachel Freeby

My husband of 40 years was having some difficulty breathing, went in for a check-up with his cardiologist. After running a few tests, she called him that same day and advised him to go to the emergency room, as his blood count was dangerously low. We went to the hospital immediately!

Charlie was quickly admitted. More tests followed, including a bone marrow biopsy. That’s when the oncologist sat us down, looked Charlie straight in the eye, and delivered his diagnosis: AML, or acute myeloid leukemia. There would be frequent blood and platelet transfusions, but Charlie was not a candidate for aggressive treatment.  You see, my husband was 83 years old. “Statistics,” the doctor continued, “give you about two months.” Charlie would be gone by Christmas.

Devastated by the prospects I prayed constantly. I asked several priests for their prayers and holy anointing. Also prayers from St Marys High School that I was a member of their foundation board. I asked family, friends, and colleagues for their prayers. I knew God was hearing prayers for Charlie coming from all over the country!

God’s answer came in the form of a text from my sister. “Aren’t you going to get a second opinion?” she asked. Actually, we were not. The diagnosis was indisputable, and we didn’t want our oncologist to think that we didn’t believe him or appreciate his care.

My sister understood, but urged me to explore other options. As it happens, she serves on a board with someone who had been diagnosed with AML and has had a bone marrow transplant. Through him, she got us in touch with Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and they agreed to see Charlie. But getting there would not be easy. Taking a plane was out of the question, given Charlie’s health; and Maryland would be a 30-hour drive from our home in Colorado. So we put it off.

Months passed, all the while Charlie enduring a constant round of tests and transfusions. Then he contracted pneumonia. That’s when, as a last-ditch effort, we decided to rent a van and drive to Maryland, despite the hardship the trip would entail. After telling our oncologist what we planned to do, he had another suggestion. “Why don’t you go to Anschutz Medical Campus?” he said. “It’s a lot closer, and I can give you a referral to a doctor who does research in blood cancer.” referring to University of Colorado Anschutz Media Campus, is a top-rated medical facility.

In January, we went to CU Anschutz where we met with Dr. Daniel Pollyea, the director of clinical trials on blood cancers. If Charlie’s tests for kidney and liver functions were approved, he could be accepted into an experimental program. Tests were approved, and Charlie was accepted—and yet, another hurdle. Charlie’s pneumonia had worsened. Normally, this would lead to a postponement, but given Charlie’s age and condition, the doctors agreed to start treatment now. Without it, the end was certain. With it, a whisper of hope. The chance of a miracle.

Those were wrenching weeks for both of us. Treatment included stomach shots, chemo, and a trial drug. I prayed while he lay in his hospital bed, in and out of consciousness.

On March 1 – Ash Wednesday of that year – we were scheduled to hear the results of Charlie’s first 30-day treatment cycle. Dr. Pollyea looked at us and smiled. “Charlie’s cancer is gone.”  We were ecstatic, thankful beyond words for the care we had received, for the prayers that were answered. Charlie would stay in the program for two more cycles, and we had every reason to hope for continued progress.

That was eighteen months ago—eighteen months more of life for Charlie. Eighteen months that I have been able to hold his hand, hear his voice, share his love. Eighteen months of giving thanks for God’s guidance, for the amazing people He has sent into our lives, for the miracle of medicine, for the miracle of prayer, and the power of love.