May 14, 2015 | by Nicole White
For almost four decades, blood cancer survivors who received bone marrow, or stem cell, transplants have returned to City of Hope to celebrate life, second chances and science. The first reunion, in 1976, was a small affair: spaghetti for a single patient, his brother who served as his donor and those who took care of him, including Stephen Forman, M.D., Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation.
On May 1, 39 years after that first spaghetti dinner, the reunion brought 4,500 patients and their loved ones to City of Hope. Next year, the event will mark its 40th anniversary. Here, Forman reflects on the annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion, and why the long-running event is one of the highlights for the City of Hope community each year.
What’s the importance of the BMT Reunion?
The reunion is the highlight of our program as it emphasizes what research and exceptional nursing and physician care have accomplished to save the lives of patients who otherwise would have succumbed to their disease.
It’s a moment when we pause and recognize both what has been accomplished, but also the challenges ahead that remain. It emphasizes we are all connected to each other and the many joys in life that a patient is able to experience once they have been cured by their transplant.
We do the reunion mainly for the patients and their families, but in truth, we also do it for ourselves as it remains an inspiring event that we carry in our memory throughout the year, looking forward to each patient we care for joining us for next year’s reunion.
What moment do you most look forward to each year?
For me, looking out at all the faces of the patients, with their families and meeting with their doctors and nurses, knowing that it is the institutional accomplishment to save even a single life. The event is both inspiring and moving. Each patient has a unique story and we are proud and grateful to be a part of their lives.
What kind of care can patients dealing with cancer can expect from City of Hope?
At City of Hope we take care of people, treating each one of them as a unique special human being for whom we have the privilege of caring. This reflects the type of nurses who are working at City of Hope in our program, who day in and day out do all that they can to help a patient recover from their therapy and leave their cancer behind. Every patient is special to us.
With the BMT Reunion recently celebrating its 39th year – and as we look ahead to the 40th – what has changed the most since the first reunion?
At the first reunion at the City of Hope, there was one patient and one family, and now there are literally thousands who attend each year’s reunion. At that time, we were limited to transplants from only related family donors and caring for people who were relatively young. Now, stem cells come from a variety of sources, including the patient (autologous), family, unrelated donors, cord blood and half-matched donors. Our transplant program can now treat people who are children or as old as their grandparents.
Over the years, we have worked hard to overcome some of the obstacles of transplant, including complications, to improve the overall outcomes so that people coming to us for a transplant have more hope than they did at the beginning.
What has not changed over the years is our commitment to each patient and their family to do our best to return them to health and their life on their own terms.
Learn more about the Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute at City of Hope and more about joining the bone marrow registry through Be the Match.
Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.