Connie Sue Prochnow
"I felt my care was more than just medical. I think they went out of their way to make it personal. I feel they care about me and my family."
- Connie Sue Prochnow
Connie Sue Prochnow, a speech-language pathologist for the Middleton-Cross Plains school district, was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in 2006. She underwent an allogeneic related donor stem cell transplant in February 2007. Here's Connie's story.
"I was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia on October 8, 2006. I had breast cancer in 2004 and in August 2006 I started to have some fatigue. I wondered if it was a slight state of depression because school was starting and summer was ending!
"I’ve always had a lot energy, so I didn’t notice it too much. But in the start of September bruising came. I can remember trying to get to my son’s football game and I don’t know how many Advil I loaded up on. Ironically, we had our wear denim day for breast cancer funding at our school and our principal said to me, 'What’s wrong with you? You look terrible. You need to go home.'
"I rallied to go to my son’s game. On Sunday, I was short of breath and sent an e-mail to my sisters, who told me to get to the ER. They were 99.9 percent sure I had a form of leukemia. I entered the hospital that night with the plan of going to school for one more week. They said, 'You aren’t going anywhere.' I probably wouldn’t have made it another week. I was pretty sick.
"I wasn’t as afraid to face this cancer even though it was more life-threatening. It didn’t scare me like it did when I found I had breast cancer. That first time you hear you have cancer, you’re alarmed. The second time my husband and I never even asked what stage I was at. Our idea was. 'I have cancer. What do I do next?' I can remember (Dr. Eliot Williams, her oncologist) telling me that it probably wouldn’t be the cancer that would be the most difficult thing. It would be keeping me free of infection. My immune system was a mess. They had to take my white blood count down to zero or close, and then I would be susceptible to infection. They did that with chemotherapy. I did end up very sick, with the worst staph infection you can get. As sick as I was I never doubted I was going to make it.
"After I went into remission I went home, and Dr. Eliot said, 'Would you like to try for a cure?' - a stem cell transplant. He asked if I had siblings, because they would be my greatest match. I have two older sisters and a brother, and all three matched. At that point they checked which one was the closest molecular match, which happened to be my brother. So I went through one more round of chemo.
"My husband and I made the decision on New Year’s Eve. It’s a time when I always reflect on the year that passed. It was a very difficult decision to make, because there are risks. We decided we were going to go for it. On February 8, my mother’s 82nd birthday, I received my brother’s stem cells.
"My brother was thrilled to be my match and wanted to be the one. He was more than happy to do it. But they did counsel him on, if it didn’t take, he shouldn’t feel guilt. In the past few years since I had the transplant I have totally accepted his immune system, so I am very fortunate to know that I’m here because of him.
"I had a great team of doctors. Dr. Eliot Williams was my first oncologist and Dr. Walter Longo was my transplant physician. They are both amazing. I can’t say enough wonderful things (about the UW Hospital staff), all the way down to the people who cleaned my room. I became friends with them. I still talk to a couple of the nurses who are still in the unit. I felt my care was more than just medical. I think they went out of their way to make it personal. I feel they care about me and my family.
"My stamina is completely back. I have a lot of energy. I have great lung capacity. My heart, my kidneys, my liver … all of the things that could be affected are wonderful. There isn’t too much I can’t do. I feel amazing and fortunate. I’m a woman of faith, so I do feel it’s God’s grace to give me another opportunity on life. I feel I should be doing more for other people. I try to pass on happiness.
"It’s really nice to wake up in the morning and not to have to think, 'Do I have cancer today?' I’ve really never thought that way about my life but to know I’ve been cured, that’s a gift."