His drive to survive

MARROW DONATION: Registration seeking matches set for Nov. 1

One local couple is making the push to get the community involved in getting on the register for bone marrow donation, in a drive they hope will result in a match for their son, who has been battling cancer for the last year.

The registration drive, which is set to take place in Peterborough on Nov. 1, is spearheaded by Laura and Steve Mahoney Sr., the owners of the Need for Speed Garage in Peterborough. It stems from some bad news their family received last November. Their son, Steve Mahoney Jr., who was born and raised in Nashua, had been diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkins Lymphoma.

Originally, said Steve Jr. in a phone interview from his home in South Carolina, he became concerned because he had lost an enormous amount of weight. His doctor insisted it was stress from work. At first, that seemed reasonable, he said — he had recently received a promotion, and the pressure was higher. But when he developed a cough, his doctor decided to put him under an X-ray. That’s when they discovered the cancer, he said.

“I broke down,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do or what to think. I curled up in a ball and cried.”

For the next year, he’d go through rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the large tumors discovered in his stomach and spine. And at first it seemed to be working, he said. But then the treatments stopped working. Eventually, his doctors told him that nothing more could be done, and they estimated he only had weeks left to live. Fortunately, there was a specialist visiting the hospital at the time, said Mahoney, and when he was consulted, he advised moving Steve to a different hospital. A doctor there had seen his strain of cancer before, he said.

“He called it ‘Hodgkins from Hell,’” Mahoney recalled. But there has a new round of treatments to go through, and this one seems to be working, he added. And as soon as the treatments are able to remove the cancer from his bone marrow, there is the chance for a bone marrow transplant, and a chance at new life. A positron emission tomography , or PET scan, last week disappointingly still found cancer cells, said Mahoney, but the numbers are shrinking, and his doctors project that after another two rounds of treatment, his marrow will be clean enough for a transplant to be an option. Before that can happen, though, a match for Mahoney has to be found.

That is the point of the bone marrow registration drive planned for Nov. 1, said his father, Steve Sr., in an interview at the Need for Speed Garage on Thursday.

“When they’re only 33 years old, you shouldn’t have to worry about your kids,” said Steve Sr. “And I can’t tell you how many people need this. Yes, we want a match for our son. But there are a lot of other people out there who need the same thing. My brother’s grandson was just diagnosed with AML Luekemia, at 19 month’s old.”

Dr. Steve Larmon, the head of Norris Cotton Cancer Center which serves Keene and Peterborough, agreed with the sentiment, noting that the pool of candidates on the registry is small, and not all of them find matches. The wider that pool can be, the better for the patients out there waiting, he said. There are currently several patients undergoing treatment that could benefit from a marrow transplant, he added. And it’s not only Leukemias and Lymphomas that are treatable with bone marrow transplants, he added, although that’s probably what they’re best known for treating. Anemia, aplasia, immune diseases, sickle cell disease and metabolic disorders have all shown to be treatable with bone marrow transplants.

There are two ways to donate marrow. The first is a non-surgical procedure where a donor receives injections of a medication that increases the number of blood-forming cells in your bloodstream. On the day of donation, blood is removed through a needle on one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells from peripheral blood stem cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm, and the stem cells are donated.

The other way is through a surgical procedure that takes place in a hospital operating room and under anesthesia, where doctors use needles to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of your pelvic bone.

People are sometimes hesitant about getting on the registry for multiple reasons, said Larmon, including the cost and the recovery time. It can take from a day to a week to be able to go back to regular activity, depending on the procedure, and up to 21 days to recover fully from the surgical procedure. But for a patient waiting for the donation, the sacrifice is beyond priceless, he said.

Steve Jr. agreed. He was an active blood donor before his diagnosis, he said, and was on the bone marrow registry, though he was never called on to donate. “It’s quick and easy to be put on the registry. And it doesn’t cost you anything to save some one’s life,” he said. “I’ve always though it’s what we should do as people.”

Now that he’s on the other end, looking for his own match, it’s a difficult waiting game, he said. “It would be amazing,” he said about finding a matching donor. “It’s been a long, tough year of constantly fighting, constantly being in pain.”

The Marrow Donor Registry Drive will be held on Nov. 1 from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Bowling Acres Grill at 32 Elm St. in Peterborough. You must be between the ages of 18 to 44 to register. For more information, contact Jennifer St. Peter at 401-248-5762. To make a monetary contribution, visit Typing fees for this drive are covered by health insurance or Michael’s Fund. Donors are asked to bring their health insurance cards to the drive. To donate to Steve Mahoney Jr., visit


Getting started: The first step in the process is getting on the bone marrow registry, which includes giving a cheek swab. Once in the registry, you will be included in searches every day for patients seeking a match. If you are matched, you will be contacted to confirm you are willing to go forward with the donation. You will participate in additional testing, including a blood test and an information session about the procedure and potential risks and side effects. If you are still considered a good match and are willing to donate, one of the following processes will happen:

Donating peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC): For five days leading up to your donation, donors will receive injections of a drug called filgrastim, which increases the number of blood stem cells in the bloodstream. On the day of donation, blood is removed through a needle in one arm, and passed through a machine which collects only blood stem cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through a needle in the opposite arm. The process is similar to donating blood and is non-surgical.

Most PBSC donations are completed in one session, which may take up to eight hours. About 25 percent of donations are split into two sessions, lasting between four and six hours each.

Donors may experience headaches, or bone or muscle aches, for several days before PBSC donation as a side effects of the filgrastim injections. Most PBSC donors report a full recovery within 7 to 10 days of donation.

Donating bone marrow: Bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure that takes place in a hospital operating room under anaesthesia. Doctors use needles to withdraw marrow from both sides of the back of the pelvis. The hospital stay for marrow donation is typically from early morning to late afternoon, or occasionally overnight. Donors can expect soreness in the lower back for a few days after donation. Most people are back to normal routines after a few days and feel fully recovered within 21 days.

Recovery: Most donors are able to return to regular activities within one to seven days after donating. Marrow levels will return to normal within several weeks.

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