In a few short weeks, Chase and Alyssa Marcus will celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary. This will be their first one as parents, as the Seneca, Missouri, couple welcomed their first child in January.
It’s a dream come true for Chase, who wanted nothing more in life than to be a husband and father.
As the milestone draws closer and closer, he took a moment to reflect on a day when it seemed to be impossibly distant. He recalled June 24, 2017, when he was a newly married 26-year-old who didn’t know the definition of leukemia — or have any idea that it was about to turn his life upside down.
“When they caught it, I was a week out from death,” Chase said. “There aren’t words enough to describe all the thoughts and emotions that were going through my head and in my heart. Everything was happening to quickly. I had a PICC line put in, was given pills left and right — along with platelets and blood. All I could think about was that I had just been married to my best friend for a year and just graduated college. The possibility of fighting cancer and even passing away to it was traumatic.”
But Chase’s story has a much happier ending, thanks to the dozens of blood donors who each helped him in his battle against the disease. He may not know their identities, but he does know one thing.
“Without the blood transfusions, I would have died,” Chase said. “That may seem dramatic, but that is the reality.”
‘CONFUSED AND SCARED’
Around the time of Chase and Alyssa’s first wedding anniversary — which they celebrated in May 2017 — Chase developed a case of bronchitis that he never seemed to be able to kick.
It was the first sign that something was wrong.
“I just started to develop increasingly odd and serious issues,” Chase recalled. “It started to get more severe in June. I wasn’t able to stand for long without getting tired. I was dieting and working out and thought that I had dehydration possibly. I remember going to the driving range and after one swing of the club, I left. I was weak in a way I had never been my entire life.”
A short time later, Chase began to display symptoms of a sinus infection. That wasn’t out of the ordinary, as he typically battled three to seven of those each year. But this one was much different.
“I went from having a stuffy nose at the beginning of the week to having a fever and throwing up in just a few days,” Chase said.
That week, Chase was working as a youth minister and dean at a church summer camp. On Monday, his leg accidentally smashed the corner of a picnic table as he stood up too quickly.
“Two days later it was the darkest shade of purple I’ve ever seen on my body,” Chase said.
On Thursday, one day after the deep bruising, Chase left work after becoming ill. He reported the bruising to his doctor’s office, who called him in for blood tests and sent him home to await the results.
“On Friday, I could barely move from how sick I was feeling,” Chase said. “My gums had started to bleed and blood spots had started to show up in my eyes. I thought maybe something was wrong with my teeth, that bacteria had gotten trapped in my wisdom teeth. I was just confused and scared.”
‘GO TO THE ER IMMEDIATELY’
The following morning, Chase’s doctor called with the results of the blood test.
“He said I needed to go to the ER immediately — that he didn’t know what was wrong but I had zero red or white cells, along with zero platelets,” Chase said.
Chase and Alyssa went to a nearby hospital in Joplin, where doctors confirmed the perilously low blood levels. They also let them know Chase would need to be flown to a Kansas City hospital for treatment.
But there was still no official diagnosis. He was obviously sick, but with what?
“Thankfully, our good friend was a pediatrician through Freeman (Health) at the time and visited us in the ER,” Alyssa said. “After looking over Chase’s charts and deducting from the conversations, she graciously warned us that Chase might have an auto-immune disease or possibly a blood cancer.”
That friend also let Chase and Alyssa to prepare for a lengthy hospital stay.
“The logical part of me immediately thought about contacting my mom, making sure someone was looking after our dog and that someone could lead out at my job for me,” Chase said. “Once I took the helicopter flight, I started to get scared. Partly of what all of this would cost, but also about all the possibilities of what it could have been. Or even how long it would take to find out.”
‘I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WHAT LEUKEMIA WAS’
Chase didn’t have to wait long to figure out what was wrong with him.
Shortly after landing in Kansas City, doctors began administering an intense chemotherapy treatment. They informed Chase that he had acute promyelocytic leukemia, a rare form of blood cancer.
For a relatively healthy 26-year-old man, the diagnosis was a complete shock.
“I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t even know what leukemia was,” Chase said. “I don’t think I’d ever really (heard) it before and didn’t even associate it with cancer. I just thought it was a big illness, but not something as serious as it actually was.”
But there was a silver lining in the diagnosis.
“The doctor was confident that we caught it in time for the treatments to save his life,” Alyssa said.
Make no mistake, Chase still faced a long road to recovery.
He spent 3-1/2 weeks on the hospital’s oncology floor, which is how long it took for his blood levels to improve enough where he could safely leave his room. To get to that point, Chase needed to receive countless blood and platelet transfusions.
“In the first week, I got them as often as they could give them to me,” he said. “Once they saw my body wouldn’t reject them, they started to hook me up to them around the clock, both platelets and red blood cells.”
Several days into their hospital stay, a doctor informed Alyssa and Chase that Chase would not have survived if he did not start receiving blood transfusions when he did.
“There was no other option,” Alyssa said. “He had to receive them in order to survive. The chemo worked to flush out the cancer cells, but the cancer had already destroyed so many healthy blood cells and his blood levels were so severely low and were steadily decreasing that he would’ve died within a week and any major injury would’ve killed him immediately.”
‘I MIGHT HAVE BEEN A WIDOW AT 22’
Chase received treatment every weekday — often from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. — and took oral medication on the weekend.
“The chemo that I was given was to do several things – to kill the blood cells that weren’t fully developed, help other blood cells to development and to fix my bone marrow that was causing everything,” Chase said. “But that is a year-long journey. The immediate plan, especially during the first week, was keeping me from passing away.”
All told, Chase and Alyssa lived in Kansas City for about two months. They finally moved back home in August 2017, but Chase continued to receive chemotherapy at Freeman until April 2018.
Nearly 11 months after he first started feeling sick — and 10 months after being officially diagnosed — Chase’s treatment was finally over. It was a significant turnaround for a man who was days away from death at the start of his treatment.
“Looking back at pictures from that week, I can now see how jaundiced and overall miserable he was,” Alyssa said. “He looked truly awful.”
While the severity of Chase’s illness was initially lost on Chase and Alyssa, they are eternally grateful for the way that fateful week unfolded.
“The steps of him seeing his primary care doctor on June 22, the doctor ordering blood testing on June 23, and then Chase getting a call early in the morning on June 24 to go to the ER immediately. If that chain of events hadn’t happened when it did, I might’ve become a widow at 22.”
‘I HAVE A SECOND SHOT AT LIFE’
The timing was a critical part of Chase’s story, but the blood donors were just as important.
“Often, cancer is seen on TV that is just fixed with chemo or some type of big process,” Chase said. “And while that is true to the end result, it doesn’t cover the day-to-day operations. The blood transfusions were just as vital to the chemo. Without it, I wouldn’t have survived long enough to take the chemo.”
Chase and Alyssa were both asked what they would want his donors to know about the person they helped, and how their gifts helped him overcome a life-threatening ordeal.
“I never thought I’d face death at 26, but I’m alive now at 32 — thanks to what you do,” Chase said. “One of my hardest days in life was hearing my wife weep at night from the thought of losing me, just after a year of marriage and graduating college together. And now I get to laugh every day with her as we enjoy life together. We are new parents to our miracle baby. After all we’ve been through, more than what I can write, we have a son that (we) love dearly. Our life, our family, is because of your donation. I have a second shot at life, one that I didn’t think I’d have. There aren’t enough words to say thank you. I just hope you know that you made a difference, one that I’ll always be grateful for.”
“I know it’s hard to be generous when you don’t always have the reward of knowing the recipient of that generosity or seeing their face when you give, but please know that your generosity of an hour of your time and 500ml of your blood truly saved my husband’s life,” Alyssa added. “We had no idea how close to death he was and at the time, we couldn’t even comprehend just how incredibly essential it was that those blood transfusions were easily accessible at the hospital.”
Having witnessed the impact of those gifts first-hand, Alyssa has committed to being a regular blood donor to remember how much those individuals blessed their family and help others in need. She’d previously donated in high school and college, but now views giving as “an essential cause” in her life.
“You better believe that I’m going to donate again as soon as I can,” Alyssa said.
Donating blood with the Community Blood Center of the Ozarks allows more than 40 local hospitals to continue to provide lifesaving treatment to friends, neighbors and loved ones here in our communities. There is no other organization that supplies blood and blood products to these hospitals, who rely exclusively on CBCO donors to help patients like Chase. What kind of stories will your donation inspire? Click here to find a drive near you.