Organized by: Kerstin Rao
Big News: Come Meet Sarah’s Bone Marrow Donor!
May 11, 2018
(updated May 2017): Life changes in an instant. Truly, this could happen to any of us. A normal day of working long hours and caring for your kids can, with one phone call, turn into the new reality that you are a cancer patient.
But first, let us take a step back and tell you about our beloved Sarah Warner Lister.
You know that friend in your life who always makes you laugh, no matter your troubles? We know the feeling, because that’s our Sarah. For 11 years, Sarah had been the Executive Director of Lexington’s Ronald McDonald House, providing comfort and hope to thousands of families from around the world while their children are hospitalized. Her beautiful smile and always-positive personality brought great comfort to those families. She never dreamed that one day she and her family would find themselves in a situation where they would need the same kind of assistance.
January 5th, 2016 was a normal day for this happy, active family, but it was about to become the day that changed their lives. That night after dinner, Sarah got a call from her doctor with the results of some recent blood work. She was hoping for good news and less medicine for the Lupus she was diagnosed with months before this call; instead, her doctor told her that she has Acute Myeloid Leukemia. He said she would need to go into the hospital the very next day for a month of aggressive chemotherapy. And, by the way, because of the germs little ones are exposed to every day, her sons would not be able to visit for the entire month. Thomas was 8 and Charlie was 3 – not seeing them for a month was unimaginable for Sarah.
For most of us, this would be a challenge that would take the wind out of our sails, but not Sarah. She and her husband, Charles, put on a brave face and a smile and put the boys to bed. Sarah quickly pulled together all of the information that Charles would need to take over her role. They sat down and calmly went through passwords, teacher’s names, location of life insurance policies and their will, and the needs of Sarah’s mom, who lives with them and recently had knee replacements. Sarah checked into the hospital the next morning to begin the fight of her life. We learned later that without treatment the doctors predicted she would only have lived another 3 months.
The doctors, staff, and patients at the Markey Cancer Center were amazed by this beautiful, smiling woman who always had a kind word and concern for others. As she settled into this new reality, Sarah’s family and friends were trying to decide how they could help. Team Sarah was born on that day – a far-reaching group of family, friends, colleagues, friends of friends, donors, board members, past clients, teachers and medical staff. Even people who never met Sarah are touched by her incredible positive force. We invite you to join Team Sarah! (#TeamSarah)
Her cancer required lengthy treatment including round the clock infusions of chemotherapy that ravaged her body. Maintaining remission required several more extended hospitalizations (months at a time), as well as frequent home health nursing and weekly physical therapy which was only partially covered by insurance. Genetic testing uncovered that Sarah would require a bone marrow transplant in order to survive. Thanks to an anonymous donor, Sarah received a donation of stem cells and the transplant took place the day after her 46th birthday leaving her immunocompromised, weak, and unable to resume normal activities like work, chores, errands, and child care.
While the transplant has been considered a success for placing Sarah in AML remission (no residual evidence of cancer...hooray!), she unfortunately received a difficult diagnosis of Chronic “Graft Versus Host Disease” in May of 2017. Her body is in a perpetual fight rejecting the new bone marrow. Muscles, fascia, and joints across her body (especially her hands, arms, back and feet) are chronically inflamed, swollen, and stiff. She requires high-dose steroid therapy that lasts 20 weeks at a time and leaves her depending on a walker to move around. This is a life-altering diagnosis with no cure. Doctors must monitor her vital organs frequently to ensure that the rejection has not spread.
Keeping up with two small (and very active) children under the age of 10 can be physically impossible for Sarah and the family has had to employ the help of a daycare center and private babysitting so her husband can continue to work.
That said, Sarah is considered “one of the most cheerful Cancer patients I’ve ever met” (said her devoted friend and former colleague Jennifer from the Cincinnati Ronald McDonald House.) Sarah attributes the perspective given from having a life-threatening illness as the source of her daily gratitude, optimism, and faith. TeamSarah has lifted her spirits up every single day since that initial phone call from her doctor in January of 2016. Her positive attitude is unwavering and her wacky sense of humor is untouched.
Finances are unsure and bills for treatment, childcare, prescription medications, COBRA health insurance, and sub-specialists have proven to be shockingly high. If we can raise at least $100,000, we can help provide necessary funds for the best continued care as well as help cover the needs of her family while Sarah continues to fight for her life. Please give whatever you can to help Sarah fight this battle.
When Sarah learned that we were putting this page together she said, "Is there any way to illustrate how awkward it is to have been raising money for charities my entire career, and now I am the one in need? 'Irony can be so ironic...' " (As said by William Shatner as Commander Buck Murdock, from Airplane 2.)
Your gift will bring relief and hope to Sarah and her family with your donation. Thank you!