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Survivor of Rare Cancer Celebrates Year Since Bone Marrow Transplant

Gray Lloyd spent Thanksgiving 2012 in UAB Hospital, where he was released just before Christmas with a priceless gift: hope.

What first appeared to be a bad sinus infection turned out to be a rare and aggressive cancer. Thanks to his family and the caregivers at UAB Hospital, Lloyd made it through the holidays well-fed and cancer-free.

"They gave me a sliver of hope, and I just ran with it," he says.

Lloyd, 29, graduated from the University of Alabama in 2006 with a degree in telecommunication and film. He grew up in the Hoover area, but he and his wife Ashley now live in Tuscaloosa, where Lloyd works in film and video production for the UA Center for Public Television.

His fight with cancer began in August 2012 when he visited a physician in Tuscaloosa complaining of a stubborn sinus infection. "The doctor just told me to take Mucinex and sent me on my way," he recalls.

He and his family were not satisfied with that evaluation, so Lloyd called UAB and made an appointment with Bradford Woodworth, MD, a surgeon at The Kirklin Clinic who specializes in the treatment of sinonasal and skull base disorders.

"Dr. Woodworth actually canceled a flight to fit me in," Lloyd says. "He pretty much saved my life."

Dr. Woodworth's examination revealed a tumor in Lloyd's sinuses, leading to a diagnosis of blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm, a rare form of cancer that had not been seen in Alabama and almost never manifests in the sinuses, Lloyd says.

"Most people die from it," Lloyd says. "They told me to stay off the Internet, because there are so many horror stories about this type of cancer, and there's not enough research to prove that you can't be cured."

Care Close To Home
Lloyd says he initially thought he might have to seek treatment out of state, but UAB Hospital oncologist Lisle Nabell, MD, assured him that UAB had the capabilities to manage his cancer.

"Dr. Nabell called doctors from all over the country, so it made me feel comfortable that the top doctors were consulting on my case," Lloyd says. "I'm very lucky to be just 40 minutes away, and my parents just 10 minutes away in Hoover."

Lloyd underwent 27 days of inpatient chemotherapy to wipe out his bone marrow, followed by a second round in fall 2012, effectively putting the cancer in remission.

"With this cancer, once you go into your first remission, you immediately need to have a bone marrow transplant or there's a pretty high chance it comes back," Lloyd says.

Earlier tests on Lloyd's siblings revealed that neither was a bone marrow match. "When my brother and sister didn't match, panic kind of set in," he remembers. However, Diana Tate, RN, the transplant director for UAB's Bone Marrow Transplant Unit (BMT), searched the donor databases and was able to quickly find a 10/10 match for Lloyd.

"I actually had a lot of backup donors in case something fell through, so I was very lucky in that regard," Lloyd admits. "Some people wait months to find a donor, and some never do."

Just before Thanksgiving 2012, Lloyd was readmitted to UAB Hospital for a third round of chemotherapy to help ensure that the cancer stayed in remission. Donna Salzman, MD, medical director of the BMT, supervised Lloyd's transplant on Nov. 29. He was released two weeks later – just in time for Christmas.

"UAB has been nothing but incredible," Lloyd says. "The 9th floor of Spain Wallace Tower, where I first had the chemo done, all the nurses and doctors there made me feel really comfortable. I didn't really stress much while I was there. Same with the bone marrow unit; everyone there went out of their way for me."

Holidays In The Hospital
Lloyd was fortunate in that he had plenty of family around during his ordeal. His wife took two weeks away from work to be with him during the initial chemotherapy, and his parents visited daily.

"I was actually sick on Thanksgiving, so I slept most of the day," Lloyd recalls. "But there was a guy dressed up as Santa who came by and dropped off gifts, a scarf and a beanie, which were really nice. If you had to be in there over the holidays, they did what they could to make sure it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world."

Once his appetite returned, "My family brought me meals every day for lunch and dinner. I was spoiled; I only had to eat hospital breakfasts," he says with a grin.

Lloyd's battle with cancer has not been without setbacks. He's been in and out of UAB Hospital several times since the transplant, mostly due to complications from diabetes and his prednisone treatment. And as a result of the transplant, Lloyd developed graft-versus-host disease earlier this year, so he visits UAB regularly for outpatient photopheresis sessions, which use UV light to treat his blood.

He's had to take time off work during hospital stays and periods of low energy, and he isn't as active as he once was. But Lloyd is thankful for the care he's received and is optimistic about his future. He will find out this month if his cancer is still in remission.

"No one has ever mentioned life expectancy or given me a prognosis," Lloyd says. "I just feel like this did work, that I'm cured, and I'm going to live until I'm 80."