MDS-survivor, Danny now dedicated to raising awareness
This MDS World Awareness Day, Danny Palmer will celebrate achieving remission after undergoing a life-saving transplant earlier this year. He’s now committed to raising awareness of the many different blood cancers, encouraging others to donate blood and plasma, as well as fundraise in support of the community.
Danny was diagnosed with the blood cancer, myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) in September 2019 after experiencing months of fatigue.
“I just assumed I was working too hard – I maintain parks and recreation areas for the local council and was walking a lot of kilometers every day,” said the 50-year-old who lives on the Gold Coast in Queensland.
“I have type-1 diabetes and bipolar disorder as well, so I was in regular contact with my doctor.
“I had an appointment in August 2019 and told him what was going on, he said, ‘you’re due for a blood test for your diabetes anyway but I think there’s a bit more to this’.”
“Low and behold, when the results came back it looked like I had leukaemia.”
Danny was taken to the local Gold Coast Hospital where he received a blood transfusion and underwent further tests.
“It was then confirmed that I actually had high-risk MDS. I was told it was a blood cancer, but I had no idea that there were any other types than leukaemia,” said Danny.
“It was a steep learning curve, and I was pretty scared.”
Danny was put on a drug called azacitidine, a daily injection for a week every four weeks, and was given only eight months to live.
“My case was then submitted to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH) board as an ideal candidate for a transplant,” said Danny.
“My haematologist at Gold Coast Hospital has a great relationship with my now haematologist in Brisbane, Dr Siok Tey.
“I was really lucky that I didn’t have to go the roundabout way to get to transplant but I was put forward to the right people from the outset.
“They assess a lot of things like your survival chances, any comorbidities, your age and the progression of your disease.
“In the new year I was told I had been accepted but that I would need a 10/10 perfect-match donor.”
Both Danny’s sister and brother were not a match, so the search was widened to find an unrelated donor.
“They first found a perfect-match donor from Germany; however, the COVID-19 pandemic had just hit, and we were told no more stem cells were making it into the country,” explained Danny.
“We were back to the drawing board for a while there. Thankfully, another 10/10 match was soon found down in Victoria and I was all set to go in April.”
On 2 April 2020, Danny underwent the transplant in Brisbane spending a total of 24 days in hospital.
“My wife, Sharon and my sister, Kelly cared for me and we were kindly offered a free unit at a Leukaemia Foundation Patient Accommodation Village,” said Danny.
“That was just brilliant and my Blood Cancer Support Coordinator, Jaye was so supportive throughout it all – I will never forget how kind and helpful she was to us.”
Within a couple days of being discharged, Danny had high temperatures and had to return to hospital for three nights with an infection in his central venous line.
“I also experienced severe graft versus host disease (GVHD) presenting as an all over body rash,” explained Danny.
“That went on for the full 100-day recovery, but we were able to eventually get rid of it by religiously applying steroid cream many times a day.”
After completing his 100-day recovery, Danny also suffered from some delayed GVHD in his mouth, throat, and gut.
“That’s been tough as it really holds you back from eating and I’ve lost about 10 kilograms,” he said
“I’m still trying to manage it by maintaining a healthier diet, especially with my diabetes, because my sugar levels are also raised by the steroids.”
On 6 October 2020, 187 days after his transplant, Danny finally achieved remission.
“That was really exciting news as my medical team had been quite worried when they found some immature cells of my own that were still cancerous,” said Danny.
“But they altered a few things with my steroid dosage and meds, and now my bloods are all looking great and my organs are functioning perfectly.
“Dr Tey even said they had spoken about my case in a special meeting as my recovery journey was really unique compared to others.”
With his recovery going well, Danny is now firmly focused on raising awareness of blood cancers.
“My diagnosis really opened my eyes to just how many blood cancers there are, and I want to do as much as possible to get more people involved in the cause,” he said.
“If anybody asks me about my cancer, I always do my best to explain exactly what it is and how much support is needed.
“I’m really passionate about blood and plasma donation now, it’s vital for many people’s survival and it’s not a painful process to donate. I’ve got all my friends and family doing it now.
“If you’re lucky enough to be healthy and well, why wouldn’t you help others who need it?”
Danny is also encouraging more people to fundraise to provide vital services to those going through a diagnosis, like the accommodation his family received.
“We just wouldn’t have made it through without that,” said Danny.
“Coincidentally, I had participated in the Leukaemia Foundation’s World’s Greatest Shave six months before my diagnosis in 2019.
“A bloke from work had a young daughter who had passed away from leukaemia. I had a bit of a beard going so I decided to shave it all off and raise some money.
“Little did I know that I would be a recipient of those fundraising efforts in just a few months.”
Danny is now looking forward to celebrating his 51st birthday after a huge year.
“I’ll get the family together and celebrate some good news because it’s just been a lot of worry for a long time,” he said.
“My next step is getting back to work because I’m one of those people that don’t like sitting stagnant.
“Everything is looking like it’s going forward and I’m a very happy man.”