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Cancer Survivor Shares Journey with Online Social Network

Jimmy Thomas with his mother and bone marrow donor Patricia.

Jimmy Thomas with his mother and bone marrow donor Patricia.

Mother Gives Life to Son Twice
By Patrice K. Muhammad

Posted online Dec. 14, 2016 5:35a

Jimmy Thomas is popular, to say the least. Thomas has the maximum Facebook friends allowed, 5000, and hundreds who have follower status because his friend class is full.

Thomas has spent countless hours, over many years, making his friends and followers on Facebook laugh each day through his witty observations, ”tea sipping” memes and odes to the love of his life, fried chicken.

Not all laughs, many of Jimmy’s online messages are inspirational. Some posts were personal testimonies of his gratitude for a good meal, a job, a vacation or a new car.

Then on September 10, 2015 he posted:
Found out tonight that I have leukemia (cancer of the blood). I was admitted to Markey Cancer Center a few hours ago. They don’t know what type it is yet until they draw some of my bone marrow in the next couple of days. I don’t want to be secretive about it because I want and need every prayer that I can get. I don’t know what to feel or to think right now. Only thing I know for sure is that God is able and He Is a Healer. Thank you to all those already praying, and please continue to do so.

“I had no hesitation to ask for prayer on Facebook. I knew I would need prayer to get through this and I needed as many people as possible praying for me,’’ Jimmy said in a recent interview.

The diagnosis for Jimmy was Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). He responded well to treatment.

“I was in remission since my first round of chemotherapy in September 2015. For 11 months, there were several more rounds which was standard protocol and as precaution,’’ Jimmy said in a recent interview.

For months, there were posts about his treatment, the food, the good care he received. Jimmy recorded himself singing songs of praise and when he was able he went downstairs to play piano in the hospital lobby.

Through Facebook, friends and family could see information about fund raiser events organized by co-workers, benefit gospel concerts and a gofundme account to help Jimmy pay his bills during this unexpected time of unemployment.

There was a bone marrow drive where many people signed up and had blood drawn to join the national registry and they gathered outside the hospital to wave and encourage Jimmy.

The drive was done to spread awareness but also done, just in case.

Jimmy knew there may be a time when he would need a bone marrow transplant, which would replace cancer breeding marrow with healthy non-cancer producing marrow.

African-American’s are only able to find a bone marrow match through the registry 60% of the time, Latino’s fare a bit better at 70%, while Caucasians find a registry match 90% of the time.

After 11 months Jimmy was still cancer free and was finally able to be reemployed at UK Hospital.

On August 9, 2016 Jimmy had his routine lab work.

That day he posted:
So, my lab results today weren’t as good as they should be. Have to come back on Friday for more labs and a possible bone marrow biopsy. Please pray that everything turns out ok, and that I just have a virus and not a relapse of the leukemia. I’m claiming it and thanking God in advance!

However, routine testing showed the cancer had returned and this time he’d need more aggressive treatment, a bone marrow transplant.

But a donor had not been found among his siblings or the national registry.

”I was so crushed and disappointed to not be able to help my little brother,” said his sister Toni Walker.

Most of the Thomas family was already on the national bone marrow donor registry because six years ago a cousin, Erika Turner, was diagnosed and they all rallied to help her. Turner did find a match, but it was a non-family match and the family proved no match for Jimmy either.

Jimmy said, “My first cousin was diagnosed 5 years to the day before I was. She is now doing very well and living life. She met her donor on Good Morning America (in 2012) and has been an inspiration and given me a lot of hope.’’

Throughout the next round of therapy and the wait for a donor, Thomas remained on social media.

Toni said besides prayer and medicine, the constant and instant contact with friends on social media has helped Jimmy tremendously. “He’s not married, no kids, we can’t always be there. Facebook kept him from depression and being alone.’’

Thomas said he felt that he couldn’t give up. “The more people saw me not giving up they were inspired, and it got me inspired. I felt like I’d be letting them down if I gave up,’’ he said. He never got so low that he considered refusal of treatment but he understands how it could happen. “I never did because I have such an awesome support system, but I can see how without support someone could say forget it.’’

Because of their age, the doctors never looked to Jimmy’s parents as donors until his prognosis made everyone an option.

”It was scary,” his sister said.

His father, Elder Thomas was a cancer survivor which made him ineligible. All his father’s siblings had cancer before so they were not options.

Finally, his mother Patricia Thomas was tested and she was the match he needed.

The transplant was considered a success. Mrs. Thomas went home soon after the simple donor procedure, which is now minimally invasive and like the procedure for a routine blood donation. It was an outpatient procedure.

Jimmy went home a month later. Toni explained before the procedure that it would be a long road to recovery for her brother.

“For an entire year, he can’t be in crowds or around lots of people. He was told to sit on a row by himself if he goes to church. He has to be really careful not to risk infection,” Toni said.

The hospital stay went better than the doctors portrayed. Jimmy said he was prepared for the worst.

However, he’s struggled since coming home.

“It’s been rougher than expected at home,’’ Jimmy said. “Physically, I expected to feel better. I have no energy, no appetite.’’ His parents have moved in to care for him around the clock.

Again, it was a Facebook friend who provided inspiration. “Someone made a comment on one of my posts, that I am literally being remade from the inside out. I have to take it easy and be patient,’’ he said.

So much credit is given by Thomas to his parents and sister who have stood with him and by him throughout it all. But he also credits his social support for inspiration.

Some leukemia cases are fatal
Though more treatable than lung or breast cancer, leukemia can be fatal.

Early in his journey Jimmy ran into a friend, Aaron Jackson, battling the same disease. “He was diagnosed on my birthday, September 8, 2015 and I was diagnosed the next day September 9, 2015.’’

They knew each other already and were literally on the same journey, the same diagnosis, a day apart.

Aaron had similar support, his parent’s, family and friends posted “Aaron Strong’’ videos and ribbons on Facebook. Fundraisers for treatment, which included travel to Texas for a trial study. Jackson never found a donor, and Thomas said his friend struggled to get into remission.

On Nov. 30, Aaron Jackson passed away at the age of 35.

“I took it very hard. His passing had a strong impact on me,’’ said Thomas who could not attend the funeral due to his own condition.
Two leukemia diagnoses, two different outcomes.

“Aaron inspired me a lot, he went through a lot and stayed strong. We had, have, a hashtag #AaronStrong and I’m still #AaronStrong.’’

Thomas plans to advocate for minority donor registration and leukemia awareness and be a voice for those causes.

Overall, Thomas said, he plans to “enjoy life more.’’

Bone marrow donor information: www.bethematch.org
Financial support for Jimmy Thomas: www.gofundme.com 

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