Five and a half years ago, Diamond Springs resident Alice McKillop was diagnosed with lymphoma which, after a few years in remission, reemerged as chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
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The second-most common form of adult leukemia, CLL often has no symptoms. Sometimes it is just monitored instead of treated. But, for the 56-year-old McKillop, the disease has been aggressive and she is now undergoing her fourth type of chemotherapy and looking at a bone marrow transplant.
Alice and her husband, Kirk, have lived in Diamond Springs since 1987. They raised their two daughters there and have a son, Brendan, who is a senior at Union Mine High School. She was a dental hygienist for Dr. Carl Hillendahl and Dr. Lowell Pluebel for 26 years.
“She’s got a real astute business sense,” said Kirk. She does the bookkeeping for his construction project management company.
“She’s a bubbly person with lots of friends and she’s belonged to the same women’s study group in Sacramento for 30 years. Our two grandsons and the prayers of our church members have buoyed her up through all of this.”
Alice dealt with chronic fibromyalgia for years and cut back her hours as a dental hygienist due to fatigue. Later, she started feeling that something wasn’t right and went to her doctor.
“They thought it might be a virus of some sort,” said Kirk, “and advised her to monitor it.”
Alice went to an infectious disease specialist who also advised a wait and see.
“More time went by, but she said she knew her body and something was not right,” said Kirk.
Alice went to another specialist who found that her lymph nodes were swollen. From there, it was a short step to the diagnosis of lymphoma. Then it became CLL.
“The chemo she is taking now is very harsh,” said Kirk. “They are trying to deplete her system so that a bone marrow transplant will be more effective.”
At home, Alice’s vulnerability to infection means that visitors can’t come inside. Even Kirk can’t be around other people if they are ill, lest he bring the germs home. And she hasn’t yet been able to hold her two grandsons, John Kirk, 18 months, and Tristan, 10 months.
On Sunday, July 21, Calvary Chapel, 6575 Commerce Way in Diamond Springs, will host a bone marrow/blood drive in collaboration with Blood Source in support of Alice McKillop from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Kirk, one of the couple’s daughters and husband, son Brendan and Kirk’s brothers will be in attendance. “This is not just for Alice, ” said Kirk, “but we’re hoping for a match.”
Alice was a blood donor for many years and Kirk finds it ironic that she will benefit from the generosity of others the way others benefitted from her generosity.
“We live day by day. We get through today and then move on. I’m holding out great hope that in a year or so, Alice will be able to do all those activities she’s had to put off for so long,” said Kirk. “She wants to hold her grandsons.”
Those attending the July 21 bone marrow/blood drive need to be 18-44 to register for the National Bone Marrow Registry. Registrants must be willing to donate bone marrow to any patient in need.
“Someone from El Dorado County may bless a person in Mississippi with their marrow, or someone from Boston might be a match for Alice. That’s the way it works,” Kirk said.
Testing for a bone marrow match is quick and easy — initially a cheek swab during the bone marrow drive. If a marker/match is identified, then a blood test will be conducted at a later time.
Those wishing to donate blood must be at least 18 or have parental permission to do so. Blood donation takes about an hour; donors must bring a photo ID, weigh at least 110 pounds and be at least 17 years old and generally healthy. Donors can be 16 if they have a signed Blood Source parental consent form. There is no upper age limit for donors and they should drink plenty of fluids and eat well before donating.
For more information about the blood drive and marrow registry, contact Blood Source at 800-995-4420, extension 60039 or visit the Website at bloodsource.org.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.