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AML Survivor Tells Patients Waiting for a Stem Cell Donor ‘Don’t Ever Give Up Hope’

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For Maggie Cambora, who received a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia in 2020, the third potential donor match was the connection that saved her life, she told CURE®.

Maggie Cambora has a message for patients with cancer who are waiting to be matched with a stem cell donor: Don’t give up.

“I was inpatient for four months without seeing my children,” Cambora, who received a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia in 2020, told CURE®. “Luckily, the nurses on the floor were able to let me see the kids for two hours every Saturday. So, that was wonderful. But never give up hope. It doesn't matter if you're five years old, or if you're 85 years old. Don't ever give up hope because there will be a match a perfect match for you.”

Months of diminishing health left Cambora sleeping upwards of 20 hours a day and unable to eat, walk or dress her 3-year-old daughter before her diagnosis in August 2020.

Read more: Reflection on Life 10 Years After Stem Cell Transplant

The American Cancer Society estimated that there will be approximately 59,610 new cases of leukemia and 23,710 deaths from leukemia, including approximately 20,380 new cases of AML and approximately 11,310 deaths from AML in 2023. While AML is one of the most common types of leukemia found in adults, it is only responsible for approximately 1% of all cancer cases, the American Cancer Society reported.

Cambora received three rounds of chemotherapy in September, October and November 2020. A first attempt at stem cell transplantation, which introduces healthy blood-forming cells into a recipient’s body, failed in January 2021, then a second potential donor fell through.

She was then connected with donor Ronald Wardleigh, who had joined the donor pool of international nonprofit organization, DKMS, during a donor drive at his alma mater, Western Colorado University, in 2017.

The transplant happened in late March 2021. Cambora’s blood cell counts started improving quickly and she was able to go home to her husband and children less than a month later.

“We at DKMS don’t take no for an answer,” DKMS Global chairwoman Katharina Harf told CURE® via email. “Someone tells us that it’s really hard to go to India, maybe you want to shy away from there, or maybe not Chile, or maybe not that country. We always get it done and that’s because there’s so much passion in the company for saving lives and, really, for innovation. The lives we save are incredible and I am so happy to be part of it. I’m grateful to be part of it but it’s all because of our passionate donors and employees. And that, I’m eternally grateful for. We will only stop when patients no longer need our help.”

Read more: A Look at the Nutritional Impacts of an AML or MDS Diagnosis

Transcript:

Q: What advice do you have for any fellow patients out there who are waiting for a donor?

A: Don't give up. Don't ever give up. I was inpatient for four months without seeing my children. Luckily, the nurses on the floor were able to let me see the kids for two hours every Saturday. So, that was wonderful. But never give up hope. It doesn't matter if you're five years old, or if you're 85 years old. Don't ever give up hope because there will be a match a perfect match for you.

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