A Survivor Celebrates Her Third Post-Transplant “Birthday”

My name is Erin B., and I am a SURVIVOR! 

Cancer survivor Erin Berrios
Erin B.

On July 1, 2011, at the age of 32, I was diagnosed with lymphoblastic lymphoma. I had a mass in my chest the size of a peach and the tumor had spread to my bone marrow. My daughters were almost one and three years old, and I had recently celebrated my sixth wedding anniversary.

I decided to get mad at this cancer and fight back. It would not prevent me from seeing my children grow up. It would not stop me from living the fun-filled life of my dreams. This was war!

After my third round of chemotherapy, my doctors stood over my bed looking sad. My body was not responding to the regimen; I needed a bone marrow transplant.

We decided to go to Memorial Sloan Kettering. My doctor, chief of the program, asked me to give him a year of my time and in return he would give me back my life.

All six of my siblings were tested as possible donors but none of them were a match. I had to take a not-so-perfect match, which could involve more risks and complications. The transplant was scheduled. By the grace of God, my transplant was delayed due to an infection — and during that delay, by wonderful coincidence, someone signed onto the National Marrow Donor Program who was a perfect match for me. During my month in the hospital, I endured total-body radiation, chemotherapy, and other treatments before receiving my donor’s cells. My transplant took place on February 16, 2012 — my new birthday.

I had to stay in New York City for 100 days after the transplant. My counts started to climb as my donor’s cells grafted. Bone marrow biopsies and PET scans showed no sign of cancer, no markers, no disease, and 100 percent donor cells!

I rented an apartment near the hospital. My husband’s leave of absence from work had ended, so my oldest brother and sister-in-law became my caregivers. Wearing a mask and gloves, I walked the city streets and set goals: First, I’d make it to the grocery store, then the children’s clothing store, and then the cosmetics store. Finally, I walked to Bloomingdale’s — a big accomplishment.

My third post-transplant bone marrow biopsy showed no sign of cancer, so we had a big celebration. Physical therapy started next and helped me get stronger. Since then, I have continued an exercise routine to improve my stamina and strength.

My third “birthday” has passed, and I continue to be cancer free! I am able to run around with my daughters; my husband can do his work and travel for business. We enjoy all the things we did before my illness: seeing family and friends, eating out, going wherever we wish.

I have learned to appreciate the little things — taking a shower without getting exhausted, playing with my kids, and not worrying about my counts. I try to find humor in things and laugh a lot. I don’t take my health for granted. I remember to let people know I love them and how much I appreciate them. I always try to live in the moment. And what a lovely moment this is.