Skip to main content

Meet Jay O'Brien

I was a college athlete and coach, and I’ve always been in good shape. I also worked in the athletic footwear business for a long time.

In 2008, my wife and I were on one of our long walks, and I couldn’t make it up a hill. My heart was pounding like crazy — but I wasn’t sweating. I saw my primary care doctor in New Jersey.

The moment he saw me he was so concerned that he ordered blood work immediately. That afternoon, his office called — go to the ER. And that’s where my wife and I learned I had leukemia. I transferred to MSK the next day, and began chemotherapy.

So many things rush through your mind when you get cancer—but the MSK doctors and nurses were wonderful. Dr. Miguel Perales became my oncologist — he’s a very special guy. I went into the hospital on November 15 and left right before Christmas because my blood counts were strong.

Then I decided to have a bone marrow transplant (BMT) because it can greatly reduce the chance of cancer recurrence. I come from a large family and one of my brothers was a perfect donor stem cell match.

The risk of infection is very high after a BMT. Even later, you cannot eat shellfish, salad, or other foods high in microbes because your immune system is weak. Dr. Perales told me about an MSK study using an interleukin drug to boost T cells that strengthen the immune system. My wife and I decided I should enroll. And the treatment worked.

I’ve been in remission now for nine years. I’m positive — I always think about what’s ahead of me. But I’m also very grateful every day for people who support research at MSK. Their gifts allow people like Dr. Perales to save lives, including mine.