Survivor steps up to raise money for cancer research

Published on Wed, Mar 6, 2013 by Brandy Kiger

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It all started with bruises that just wouldn’t heal.

“I thought I just had poor iron,” said Blaine  resident Larissa Dhanani. “So I went to the doctor to get a blood test. I never imagined that it would be cancer.”

The picture of health, Dhanani ran regularly, ate well and didn’t smoke. It was a shock for the mother of three when the 
diagnosis came back as chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), a form of leukemia characterized by the increased and unregulated growth of myeloid cells in her bone marrow.

“I still remember that phone call,” her  longtime friend Kim Lillejord said. “It was scary.”

Dhanani went into treatment immediately, wanting to attack the cancer as soon as possible.

At the time, she and her doctors thought it would be controllable but in January 2011, the malignant cells struck with a vengeance. Dhanani went into “blast crisis” as her medication stopped working and she was rushed to Seattle for treatment. “I think the doctors thought I was going to die,” Dhanani said. “I decided not to.”

They dosed her with radiation, preparing her body for a bone marrow transplant, and waited to see what would happen. “You can’t receive a transplant if you have active cancer cells,” Dhanani said. “We had to get down to zero.”

Her four brothers had been tested for a bone marrow match the year before, and one was a full match. “It was my brother Doug,” she said. “A full match is the best you can get, so we did it.”

She said that though the process is still painful to be a marrow donor, it is nothing like it was in the past. “They don’t go in through your spine anymore. It’s a lot less traumatic,” she said. 

Dhanani is now in remission after undergoing a new protocol designed to mitigate post-transplant complications and she is stepping out to help others. 

“We’re passionate about research. It’s often viewed as something intangible, but we’ve seen firsthand how research has worked,” she said. “Ten years ago, they wouldn’t have been able to do anything for me.”

She’s participating in the Big Climb for the second year in a row, along with 50 of her closest friends and family, to raise money for cancer research. Their goal is $22,000.

Each year, around 6,000 people take to the stairs at the Columbia Tower in Seattle for the Big Climb. 

Raising one foot after the other, they conquer the 1,311-step, 69-flight climb to raise money for cancer research and honor friends and family who have been diagnosed with the disease.

The fundraiser is sponsored by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and every step those walkers take tells a story – a mother diagnosed with breast cancer, a sister lost to leukemia or a son fighting lymphoma. 
Cancer, and the desire to eradicate it, is the one thing they have in common.

“It can hit anyone,” Dhanani said. “Leukemia strikes the youngest to the oldest. We need to find a cure.”

The National Cancer Institute estimates that 1.6 million men and women were diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and nearly 600,000 died from it.

Larissa’s Crew, the team that walks for Larissa, will be walking at 11 a.m. on March 24. They are currently in second place overall for fundraising efforts and are still collecting donations. 

For more information on their fundraiser, visit llswa.org and search for “Larissa’s Crew” under the Donate tab.

For info on how to become a bone marrow donor, visit bethematch.org.