The fight to live: How a Pinoy and his family beat cancer
SAN JOSE, California – Twenty-eight-year-old Ryan Manansala and his family learned a lot about the value of life in the last year.
In January 2012, Ryan was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, a cancer of the myeloid line of blood cells. The condition is characterized by a rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells, which affects the production of normal blood cells.
Ryan was on the brink of death, waiting for a bone marrow donor. But he couldn't find a match, not even among his family members.
In fact, it is difficult for Filipinos with life-threatening diseases to find a bone marrow match. Data from the “Be the Match Registry” showed that of the nearly ten million registered bone marrow donors, only seven percent are Asians. And of that number, only one percent is Filipino.
Thus, Ryan's only other option was an umbilical cord-blood transplant. Umbilical cord blood is blood that stays in the placenta and in the attached umbilical cord after childbirth. Cord blood contains stem cells, which can be used to treat Ryan’s leukemia.
Getting the transplant at the University of Washington Hospital last August was not an easy process. He said, “Right before the transplant, I went through intensive chemotherapy for a week. The worst part was that it involved radiation. It gave me an amnesia-effect for a week or two. It was so bad I don’t even remember much.”
It was also tough for Ryan’s family. His father, Richard, who was laid off last year, chose not to go back to work. Instead, he cared for Ryan on a full-time basis.
Richard said, “My faith in God kept me strong. I would go to church, praying and crying. People would look at me. But I didn't care. All I cared about was that God heard my prayers.”
His mother, Susan, now the breadwinner of the family, had to work even harder to pay for Ryan’s medical bills. Susan said, “I would be so tired physically, emotionally. But I had to go on.”
Susan said she could have broken down when they lost their dream house to foreclosure. But she realized that life was more important than material things. She said, “You can lose material things and you can work to gain them back. But that’s not the case with life.”
Six months of being bedridden after his stem-cell transplant, Ryan is now out of the hospital. He said, “When I read about people who survive, they call it the 'new normal'. It’s not a bad thing. It’s my second chance to live.”
Ryan knows his fight to live is not over. His body could still reject the transplanted cells, or he could relapse.
Ryan’s transplant procedure cost $1.2 million. While his health insurance will shoulder part of the cost, Ryan and his family could still end up paying half a million dollars.