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Team Debbie: Cancer victim’s family finds therapy in fundraising

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The pain of losing a wife and mother is still near the surface for Rick Seid of North Litchfield and his children Darin and Matthew. Debbie Seid died April 30 at age 59 after a four-month struggle with an aggressive form of cancer called acute myeloid leukemia.

The Seid family is determined to help other victims of blood cancer as a tribute to her. They have formed Team Debbie and are more than halfway toward a goal of $5,000 for a fundraiser in Cornelius, N.C., on Sept. 28 to benefit Be The Match, a worldwide organization that brings bone marrow donors and cancer victims together. Team Debbie has recruited volunteers from California, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina to participate in the run and walk for donor awareness being coordinated by Hendrick Motorsports.

Debbie Seid had a suitable donor available, but doctors couldn’t put her cancer into remission long enough for her to receive new bone marrow.

“My mother might not have been able to receive a transplant,” Darin said, “but I will be forever grateful for the “Be A Match” organization and the 28-year-old woman who was our donor.”

Darin, who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., said her mother was the kind of person who wanted to help everyone. “Her positive spirit has given me the motivation to make sure everybody knows about this organization,” she said.

Rick said both his children have become bone marrow donors, and Team Debbie is the top fundraising organization in the Carolinas region for next month’s the Be The Match event. Their efforts have been therapeutic, he said.

Bone marrow donors must be between the ages of 18 and 44. “They don’t take old folks,” Rick said, explaining why he was ineligible. “They do a cheek swab and sign their names and maybe don’t realize that 20 years from now they can make such an impact. Be The Match makes a big investment, providing money to do work and research, testing on possible matches and coordinating it all. When donors get that random call they can make the difference in saving someone’s life.”

Rick said he saw many people waiting on a bone marrow match at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston where his wife was treated. There are about 10.5 million donors in the registry, he said, and more than 20 million people with cancer hoping for a match. “I got to know people on different floors,” Rick said. “They were in a tower of 20 stories with 20 patients on each floor. People were getting chemo to get clean or had gotten transplants and hoping to go home. People were there just waiting and waiting and waiting.”

Not all leukemia acts like the AML that killed Debbie Seid. Her father, Joe Howerton of Murrells Inlet, lived with a type called chronic lymphocytic leukemia for 12 years before he died in 2010. Debbie’s illness came out of nowhere.

She had received a clean bill of health before she and Rick went to Florida to spend Christmas and New Year’s with their daughter. They planned to continue on to St. Maarten after the holidays. Debbie had made an appointment with a real estate agent to look at a condo on the water in Palm Beach Gardens.

She was thinking about starting a new business. So when she slept later than usual and went back to bed, the family thought she might have the flu. She was lethargic for a few days, and Darin knew something was wrong when she came home to find her mother in chills and dressed “like an Eskimo” on a hot, humid day.

She was in a coma before the family could get her to the local hospital. It took 10 days for doctors to diagnose her leukemia, and they told Rick she needed specialists.

“I Googled top 10 cancer centers,” Rick said, “and found M.D. Anderson in Houston, but they had no beds. At that point I didn’t know what to do, so I called a friend in Boston who is head of orthopedic surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Twenty minutes later he called back and said, ‘Get her on a plane.’ I figured Boston would be good because I have a network of friends there.”

Debbie Seid’s cancer had started in her hip and was spreading quickly. Doctors treated it with chemotherapy, hoping to put her into remission long enough to try a bone marrow transplant.

“The stars have to align,” Darin said. “Patients have to be in remission and be strong enough to be able to receive the transplant.” Eventually, the chemotherapy worked. Debbie’s cancer was in remission, meaning she had to leave the hospital while waiting on a donor. Two days later, her cancer was back with a vengeance.

“It was like she had never had the chemo,” Rick said. Despite the aggressive treatment, the cancer spread to Debbie’s spine and brain.

She suffered painful sores on her lips and mouth; her skin was burned by the chemotherapy and her hair fell out. She had Rick buy her a ball cap at the gift shop and kept smiling. She answered every setback with her slogan: “Tomorrow is another day.”

In a room full of doctors, Debbie’s sister, Karen, asked the question everyone was thinking: Why?

One doctor compared it to being on top of a hill with 40 people in a lightning storm. One person is struck. No one knows why, he said.

“Mom would wish it was her rather than her husband or children,” Darin said. “That’s who Mom was. I just don’t think she talked too much about it, but she knew what was going on. She knew she was dying. She carried the weight of everything and didn’t want to bother us or trouble us with what she was going through. She asked people to take care of her husband and kids, not like she was giving up but that’s who she was.”

Treatments took a toll on Debbie’s body, but she remained optimistic about recovering and coming home as doctors started radiation of her brain.

“She was scheduled for 12 treatments,” Rick said, “and after we got to six the doctor said, ‘I need to talk to you.’”

Debbie Seid’s illness and death has brought friends and family members close again, Darin said. “People send condolences, but the ones still there months later to walk or honor her are those true people you keep close to your heart,” she said. “Team Debbie is made up of people I can see talking to forever.”

For more on Be The Match and the Seid family’s fundraiser, go to online.

Journal charts course of hope and disappointment

Rick Seid kept a journal during the four months his wife, Debbie, was in Dana Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in Boston. He posted the entries on a website called Caring Bridge between Feb. 4 and May 28. Here is a sampling:

Feb. 4: Chemotherapy begins. Being that Debbie is still sedated, doctors have already taken all the precautions for all side effects.

Feb. 6: Breathing tube out, confident in our doctors

Feb. 7: She’s lost 50 pounds; nurses say not to be concerned. New doctors Steve and Ed are young and cute. She must be feeling better

Feb. 18: She wants a ball cap from the gift shop as her hair is falling out. Darin and I offer to shave our heads in support. “Don’t be stupid,” Debbie says

Feb. 25: Cancer is in remission but not completely. A bone marrow transplant revives our hope

Feb. 26: Moving to rehab

March 3: A bad day: fever, chemo’s side effects and a white blood call count four times the normal level.

March 8: AML is back as if Debbie never had chemo. Starting all over

March 11: Fever 104 and total confusion

March 14: Successful lumbar puncture to gather cells for testing and administer chemo

March 15: Chemo has produced a burning rash that’s being treated with meds and creams

April 3: Donor found. We are so excited about this news and hope and pray the biopsy results provide additional great news so we may begin the transplant

April 16: Radiation, on our way back to good health. Debbie wants to be sure we’ve tried everything

April 18: It’s hard to believe that days are running into weeks and months. I don’t know how my Deb does it.

April 30: I am greatly saddened to tell you that my best friend and wife of 37-plus years, Debbie Seid, succumbed to the effects of Acute Myeloid Leukemia today, a disease she fought vigorously with exceptional bravery and dignity.

May 28: Thanks to all for the great support over the past months on Caring Bridge and Facebook. “Tomorrow is another day”

To read Rick Seid’s journal go to caringbridge.org.

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