By Arthur Lightbourn
At the time, attorney Ramon (Ray) Lewis was in his early 30s and feeling fine, but, urged by his wife, he agreed to go for what he thought would be a routine physical exam.
As it turned out, the results were anything but "routine."
After reviewing Lewis's blood test results, his physician told him: "Son, we have a problem."
"He said my white blood cell count was through the roof and he suspected it would be leukemia," Lewis recalled.
"I didn't even know what leukemia was until they threw that word at me."
Leukemia is a life-threatening blood cancer that originates in the bone marrow from an acquired genetic injury to the DNA of a single cell which becomes malignant, multiplies continuously and interferes with the body's healthy blood cells.
Lewis was referred to an oncologist.
"I was initially told that I would be looking at immediate hospitalization and I'd have to locate a donor with a match for my bone marrow and undergo radiation and chemotherapy with a bone marrow transplant.
"But as it turned out, I was diagnosed with a chronic form of the leukemia, chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), which meant I had additional time to get things in order, find a [matched] donor and undergo the treatment."
A bone marrow transplantation is the only known cure for CML.
However, locating a matching donor was not easy. Lewis had no known siblings, who would ordinarily be considered possible donor candidates.
A search of the national data bank for potential genetically matching donors came up zero. An international search located a donor 5,756 miles away in Germany.
In November 2000, almost a year after his diagnosis, he was hospitalized for 32 days at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle for radiation and chemotherapy conditioning in preparation for his bone marrow transplant, followed by three months of outpatient care.
Within a month, the transplanted marrow was producing fresh, new cancer-free blood.
He later learned that his donor was a female university graduate student in Cologne, Germany. They have never met, but have talked on the phone and exchanged photos and e-mails.
"This is a wonderful person. She donated to a complete stranger," he said. He hopes someday to meet and personally thank her for saving his life.
He also credits his wife, Susie, for her solid, unwavering support throughout the whole ordeal.
Today, at 43, a fit-looking Lewis, has been cancer-free for nine years.
He was recently named "2009 Man of the Year" by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, San Diego/Hawaii Chapter, for personally raising $23,000 from friends and family during the Society's 10-week campaign to help blood cancer research and patient services.
Lewis spends part of his free time as a Big Brother to a 10-year-old Carmel Valley boy and as a board member and a "first connector" volunteer with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society offering support counsel to newly-diagnosed CML patients.
His idea is simple — "pay it forward" by continuing what others before him started, until there is a cure for blood cancers.
His philosophy: "Enjoy the moment. I recognize how wonderful it is to be happy in the moment and cherishing a smile because we're all only one call away from possibly not being in such a nice place."
For information on the work and services of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's San Diego/Hawaii Chapter, you are invited to call (858) 277-1800 or visit the Web site: www.lls.org/sd