Two years ago, Brian Chace of Rock Hill was planning a surprise trip for his wife, Xan. It was their 25th wedding anniversary, and he was pulling out all the stops to make sure it was a trip to Nashville Xan would never forget. A month later, however, they were in the hospital – being told that Brian had acute leukemia at age 52.
“It felt like someone kicked us in the stomach and knocked the breath right out of us,” Xan said. “We were speechless.”
That same night, Brian was admitted into Piedmont Regional Hospital where he received his first of many blood transfusions. After three pints, his coloring went from paper white to almost normal.
“By the next morning, I was ready to go,” Brian said. “It was like I had a fresh oil change.”
Brian had never been in the hospital before getting leukemia. He said he’d always been healthy and there is no explanation for why he got AML (acute myeloid leukemia). In fact, before being diagnosed, Brian had been a healthy blood donor for about 35 years.
“I just always donated blood,” he said. “It’s what I should do. It’s not like it was a major decision. Whenever I saw a bloodmobile, I just pulled up.”
Brian said he particularly likes that donations to the Community Blood Center of the Carolinas stay local, and encourages his family to give as well.
Brian and Xan have three daughters: Allison, 24, Karen, 20, and Julie, 17. Julie gave for the first time at her high school recently. After what Brian’s gone through in the last two years, they all understand the importance of blood donation.
Like most cancer patients, Brian started off with rounds of chemotherapy. One-week treatments were scheduled at Wake Forest, as Wake is considered one of the best facilities for AML. During treatments, he received oxygen-carrying red blood cells to make treatment effective. In between rounds of chemo, he often received blood and platelets from Piedmont Medical in Rock Hill (which is supplied by CBCC) when his counts got too low.
Brian says the staff of the infusion center at Piedmont Medical is wonderful. “I get extra special treatment there,” he said with a smile. “They have one room with a bed in it. Most people who get transfusions sit in chairs, but if I’m coming in, they try to get me the room with the bed.”
In February of 2012, Brian was declared cancer-free. But by May, it had returned with a vengeance. This time, they would need to follow chemotherapy with a bone marrow transplant. A match from the bone marrow registry was found quickly and came from a woman in Germany.
The transplant seemed to be working and Brian was sent home in December.
But in April 2013, his donor’s marrow was overcome, and the leukemia returned. Now, he’s going through chemotherapy once again, hoping that a second bone marrow transplant in the near future will put this cancer at bay once and for all.
Despite all the setbacks, Brian and Xan have kept a positive outlook on life. They won’t stop fighting. Brian especially wants the opportunity to plan future surprises for his wife. After all, their 25th anniversary trip to Nashville – and the joy on Xan’s face when they sat fourth row at the Grand Ole Opry – still brings tears to his eyes.
“It’s not all about me – my whole life has changed, but there are a lot more people a whole lot worse off than I am. I’ll get through it, and if it’s my time to go, then I’m ready to go. But I don’t want to.”
The hardest things for Brian have been giving up his window tinting business and not being able to donate blood anymore.
“It made me sad when I realized I couldn’t give blood anymore,” Brian said. “Your car needs gas, people need blood. You can’t live without it.”
Brian now knows that better than anyone. And he’s thankful to everyone who does give blood, for without them, he wouldn’t be here.
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