It wasn’t until some of Randy Salmon’s coworkers and customers started telling him that he looked pale and tired that the Nipomo resident decided he’d better go to the doctor.
“I had no clue at all that I was sick,” said Salmon, 59, a host at Jocko’s Steak House and local handyman. “I didn’t feel sick or tired.”
He went to the doctor in January 2012 and by the end of the month was diagnosed with leukemia. Salmon went into remission after an intense round of chemotherapy, and hoped to receive a bone marrow transplant — a life-saving step for people with blood cancers.
A perfect match was found in the National Bone Marrow Registry, but the transplant fell through, for reasons unknown to Salmon. Disappointed, he endured another round of chemotherapy.
Less than a dozen miles away in Arroyo Grande, another South County resident was experiencing a similar situation.
Shortly after she turned 65, Connie Hughes started feeling exhausted after exercising. By the time she was diagnosed with leukemia on Oct. 30, climbing up a flight of stairs left her short of breath.
She also immediately received a debilitating round of chemotherapy, and her slim frame dropped to 98 pounds. Hughes, a licensed physical therapy assistant, is also in remission, but said there’s an 88 percent chance the cancer could return.
Like Salmon, she hoped to receive a bone marrow transplant, but one potential match didn’t work out.
“When your family doesn’t match up, then you really have to depend on the registry,” Hughes said.
Instead of waiting for a perfect match to appear on the registry, Hughes is planning to receive a cord blood transplant, which uses stem cells extracted from an umbilical cord after birth that are then frozen for later use.
This isn’t Hughes’ first bout with cancer. She’s also a breast cancer survivor, and underwent a lumpectomy and radiation after her diagnosis in 2004.
Later, after moving to the Central Coast, she became a lymphedema therapist at Marian Health and Wellness Center, working with cancer patients and others who suffer from an abnormal buildup of fluid that causes swelling, most often in the arms or legs.
Now, Salmon and Hughes are hoping people will attend one of three bone marrow registry drives being held today through Friday hosted by Dignity Health of the Central Coast, which owns Arroyo Grande Community Hospital, French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, and Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria.
“If these people don’t find a match, the cancer could potentially come back,” said Sean Hunt, a registered nurse with Marian Cancer Care who helps oncology patients navigate the treatment process. Hunt, 42, was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 24, and received a bone marrow transplant. He has had long-term problems related to the cancer and treatment.
The drives will take place between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on the following days and locations:
· Wednesday at Marian medical center’s café, 1400 East Church St. in Santa Maria;
· Thursday at Arroyo Grande hospital’s café, 345 Halcyon Road;
· Friday at French hospital’s café, 1911 Johnson Ave.
Registering takes less than 10 minutes and requires a quick and painless cheek swab, according to a news release from Dignity Health. Local residents can also set up a time to register by calling Hunt at 219-4673.
Salmon said he hopes to receive a transplant so he can “get back to a normal life.”
“The way things are now I have to be careful where I go, and wash my hands a million times a day,” he said.
“It’s so important,” Hughes said of the registry. “When you don’t have a donor or you have to wait and wait and your disease progresses. I’m in remission at this point but, like I said, it wouldn’t last forever. It really means life and death.”
Cynthia Lambert and Gayle Cuddy write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.