When he returned home in 2016 after a Father’s Day trip to New York City with his daughter, Scott Kesel thought he had the flu. Blood tests showed that his platelets were lower than normal. He contacted his regular doctor and got the news: he had chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML).
CMML is a rare type of blood cancer that begins in the bone marrow, where blood cells are made. It can affect other parts of the body. There are only about 1,100 cases in the US each year, and it is more common in people over the age of 60.
A native of Canandaigua, Scott began his cancer journey at the Wilmot Cancer Institute’s Sands Cancer Center in FF Thompson. His oncologist explained all the options: chemo and a stem cell transplant.
Knowing he would need a transplant, his team at Sands had him transferred to Wilmot’s hematology team, where he began seeing Jason Mendler, MD, and his transplant physician, Omar Aljitawi, MBBS.
He had chemotherapy at Wilmot, where he got to know the IV nurses.
“They have created a mindset that is so beneficial to the patient,” he says.
For a stem cell transplant, his brother was the best match they could find, although he was only half a match. That left the option for a haploidentical transplant available. Historically, it was necessary to have a closer match to perform a transplant. In a haploidentical transplant, the donor is only half matched. It’s a newer procedure that isn’t available in all transplant centers, but Wilmot’s doctors have been performing the surgery since 2015.
He had the transplant, but unfortunately it didn’t work in Scott’s case.
Scott briefly went to another facility for a clinical trial. Unfortunately that didn’t work either. He developed pancreatitis and had to stop the study. He also contracted cold agglutinin disease, which caused his immune system to attack his red blood cells. Cold temperatures can cause it, and he had to stay in Wilmot for about a month in a temperature-controlled room, always set to 80 degrees, to overcome it.
Once that was resolved, Wilmot’s team suggested another treatment option to try Scott’s leukemia: a transplant using stem cells from an umbilical cord donation. Cord blood stem cells came from Australia and Spain to try to save Scott’s life. He only had two cord blood units available, and he needed both to have a successful transplant, which was his only viable chance of potentially curing his leukemia. Along with the cord blood, he also had radiation therapy with Louis Constine, MD
He had nothing but good things to say about the team that cared for him while he was hospitalized on the sixth floor of the Wilmot Cancer Center, the blood and marrow transplant unit.
“It was exceptional. They were so friendly and accommodating from the start,” he says. “It wasn’t limited to nurses. There are medical technicians on the floor who have been so friendly and have become very good friends.”
Fortunately, the transplant lasted this time. Scott has been in remission for three and a half years since June 2022. He thanks his team for getting him there.
“It’s an incredible group of people,” he says.
But it’s not just his team that he’s thankful for. He appreciates that his life has essentially returned to normal, despite the tumultuous COVID pandemic that occurred shortly after his transplant.
He has returned to work and has hobbies that he enjoys outside of work.
“I happen to be the world’s biggest tuba car salesman,” he jokes.
This summer and fall he has 28 performances scheduled, with various music groups in the region to keep him entertained, and he looks forward to hunting and fishing in his spare time.
Despite everything, he feels happy.
“You have to be grateful for the result,” he says. “I got a lot of support remotely from people in my community who took the opportunity to promote bone marrow logging and blood draws, which was really nice.”
He adds: “I am grateful that I ended up at Wilmot. I really couldn’t have been in a better place.”