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Three Lessons in Love from a Blood Cancer Survivor

By The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society | April 17, 2024
Dustin and KT

By definition, love can be either a noun or a verb. For many people, it represents everything we aspire to—falling in love, loving, feeling loved. It can give us some of the best times of our lives or it can help buoy us during the most difficult ones. 

Love is powerful, but it also needs to be flexible to survive. Few understand that better than blood cancer patients—and their loved ones. 

For our Valentine’s Day and everyday hero, Dustin, love has been a constant anchor. 

When Dustin was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a type of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), his life ground to an abrupt halt. His fiancée, KT, canceled their much anticipated wedding with a text that sums up their offbeat humor: “So, I have some unfortunate news. We’re going to have to call off the wedding this weekend. Dust got cold feet...and leukemia.”  

Not knowing what kind of future they’d have, they had to learn a new way of looking at their life together…  

Dustin and KT at hospital

Dustin’s Lessons in Love, With Blood Cancer 

 

Lesson #1: Ask for and accept help 

 

Every second counts when it comes to treatment, so Dustin and KT quickly learned to ask for help in order to focus as much as possible on Dustin’s health. They took leaves of absence from work and found someone to take care of their dog indefinitely. Then they spent 33 incredibly intense days in the hospital together, uncertain about Dustin’s future and their future together.  

As financial concerns grew, they found a couple resources from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) particularly helpful: free financial and insurance information and advice from other patients and caregivers in LLS Community. “It is difficult to know the difference between a tragedy and a blessing when a trauma occurs,” Dustin stated. They found their bravery in the community around them and each other.  

 

Lesson #2: Live a little, if and when it’s possible 

 

During Dustin’s ten long months of treatment, he and KT took advantage of time between his 80 infusions to make better memories—including trips, date nights, movies, and romantic dinners. And 5 months through treatment, when there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel, they sent out “Save the date. Again” cards, reminding their family and friends of their commitment: “Come what may' means 'no matter what happens.And with great hope, they got married.  

 

Lesson #3: Don’t over-do it when you’re in remission. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

 

After reaching remission, Dustin threw himself back into work, exercise, and fun and then... hit a wall. He hadn’t realized that he was suffering mentally, that he had PTSD from his lengthy treatment experience. Life after Treatment is something LLS provides help with and something the couple had to learn about. He and KT hit pause, regrouped, and laid down a plan to slowly reintroduce goals and challenges... because remission didn’t mean Dustin was done with his disease.  

Having children was one of those goals. Dustin and KT now have a three-year-old and a five-year-old they are madly in love with.  

 

Living in Gratitude

“Getting through a little bit of the ‘worse’ together means appreciating the better even more.” - Dustin, blood cancer survivor

With profound appreciation, Dustin writes a letter to his wife every Valentine’s Day. This year, he wanted to share his letter to KT publicly because he believes LLS is a crucial part of their story. Not only does he want to build awareness about blood cancers and LLS, but he also wants to reveal the formula that has worked in his thriving marriage...  

Love = hope + bravery 

 

The Letter

 

Dustin's Letter

Dear KT, 

Once, our lives seemed uncertain. I was in the first days of chemo for leukemia, scared and anxious. Maybe you felt the same way, but all I saw was courage. That courage birthed the word “seemed,” because there was one thing that I became certain of in that time: the reason why I love you. 

Fighting cancer requires the exact same skills as forging a marriage. You need hope for a better future, and you need bravery to fight for that future, no matter the obstacles. There were nights I couldn’t sleep. I imagined I may not wake up. I looked at you on your bed made of chairs, and I knew I wasn’t alone. We were for each other then, and so we are now. And for me, that sums up all that truly matters. The details will sort themselves. 

We are for each other… Isn’t that an answer to being human? Because how you give and receive love from the one who loves you best teaches you how to love the whole world. 

Lastly, there’s this. Doctors and medicine may have saved my life, but you make the life worth living. I hope. I’m brave. I love. It’s you. 

Dust  

Spreading the love  

 

The help and support of family, friends, his medical team, and KT made all the difference for Dustin. He’s grateful for them and even for his blood cancer experience, as he feels cancer has given him the depth and dimension he needed to be a good father and husband. His life is full, he says, and he’s full of appreciation—especially for the thoughtful and kind woman who has stood by him through it all. 

In the past, a diagnosis of APL was nearly always fatal. Now, because of advances in diagnosis and treatment of this disease, APL is considered the most curable form of adult leukemia.  

Without the blood cancer research LLS and other organizations have funded, Dustin says he wouldn’t be here today. Nor would his children.  

So now, Dustin and KT are huge advocates of and fundraisers for LLS, raising awareness of blood cancer by sharing his story, participating in Light The Night, Visionaries of the Year, Team In Training, and heading up Dustin’s charity, Row24. Together, he and KT have dedicated themselves to giving back.  

Dustin and KT Wedding Photo

“It is a thank you to all those people we didn't know who gave money years ago and helped save my life.” - Dustin, blood cancer survivor

 

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