Originally from Delburne, Dave Gibson, 57, knows what it’s like to be plunged into the fight for one’s life. Now based in Calgary, the busy father and grandfather works in the oil and gas industry and his duties have seen him travel extensively.
But back in the early summer of 2007, he was in an entirely different place. After experiencing severe chest pain, doctors first suspected heart attack. But tests showed no issues there. Further testing revealed Gibson actually had Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Thus began months of treatments that included blood transfusions, chemotherapy and eventually stem cell donation.
Today, Gibson said he feels better than ever. But he’s never forgotten those who came alongside him during his fight back in 2007.
“I actually went into the hospital because I had pain in my chest on the left side – I thought I was having a heart attack,” he recalls during an interview from Houston. “They’re checking my heart and couldn’t fine anything wrong with it.”
Gibson, who was 49 at the time, had been an active man who was also in good shape. But he remembered that earlier that winter, he had developed a bad virus in his chest and ended up with some fluid in his lungs.
But in June, the pain was overwhelming. “It was extreme pain. They had me on painkillers plus even sometimes they gave me morphine – that’s how bad it was.
“About a week or so into these tests is when I first met my oncologist. That’s when he said, ‘Something else is going on with your blood here’.” Tests showed Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, which is actually extremely rare in adults.
“With kids, I think there is usually an 80 to 95 per cent success rate of recovery. They told me my odds were 40 to 45 per cent.”
They also drew the fluid out of his lung, which brought immediate relief from the pain. But the journey towards fighting the cancer was just beginning.
“If it hadn’t been for that pain in my chest, I wouldn’t have gotten that early diagnosis – no doubt about it.”
Two rounds of chemotherapy took place over the summer of 2007.
“Through all this time, Canadian Blood Services was trying to find a (blood marrow)
match. They first go to your family, but nobody was a match. I was very concerned about that, because both my mother and father were born in Canada but my mother is Lebanese descent and my father is Scottish descent – so it would be like finding a needle in a haystack.
“Fortunately, Canadian Blood Services found two matches – they say the best match is a young male adult between the ages of 18 and 30. So I know it was a young male adult. The person donating doesn’t know who they are donating to, and the person receiving the donation doesn’t know either.”
But through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation, after a certain period of time, patients can send a letter through the Foundation and potentially meet donors – and that’s something Gibson would really like to do at some point down the road. “That person saved my life.”
The transplant took place on Sept. 13th, 2007. Chemotherapy that followed was particularly brutal as Gibson said doctors are trying to prepare the body as much as possible for the new DNA to overtake the unhealthy cells.
According to the Mayo Clinic web site, Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow — the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made.
These days, Gibson has really made it his personal mission to encourage healthy Canadians to register as stem cell donors.
His goals include staying healthy and spending as much time with his family as possible; to live long enough to see all of his grandchildren graduate and grow into adults and to strive to assist the Canadian Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation, Canadian Blood Services and the Canadian Cancer Society.
“I don’t know anybody that hasn’t been touched by cancer. I encourage people to think about that,” he said. “Blood services around the world are continually struggling to make sure they have enough blood to keep these people alive.”
Of course, bone marrow donations are even more challenging to find. According to Canadian Blood Services, More than 80% of Canadian patients receive stem cells from donors in other countries. Many more could be helped with a larger base of donors here at home.
“I’ve certainly changed my goals in life. I make sure I spend lots of time with family and friends,” he said, adding he takes good care of himself by eating right and staying active. He also said he feels an obligation to help spread the word about how vitally important it is to donate marrow in particular.
“I do not believe I’d be here today had it not been for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation, the Canadian Blood Services and Canadian Cancer Society. I’ve done lots of talks for them, and I will continue to. It’s my mission in life to help get that word out and make sure people understand so that more people can be saved.”