Life is for living
Stem cell transplant gave Irene Rezac a second chance
When asked her age, Irene Rezac of Sioux Falls used to jokingly answer "39 and holding!" Now when birthdays come around, she doesn't mind telling anyone how old she is. "I'm just so thankful to be here."
For the past five years, she has also celebrated her "second birthday" - Aug. 20, 2003, the date of her stem cell transplant to treat a recurrence of lymphoma. She credits the care of physicians at the Avera Hematology and Transplant, along with the prayers of many, "which made a world of difference."
Rezac's first diagnosis came in October of 1998, when she went in for an annual physical exam. Upon leaving the doctor's office, she felt a strong leading to turn around, go back into the exam room, and ask the doctor about a swelling on the side of her neck. An ear, nose and throat specialist found that the swelling was in her tonsils, and a biopsy showed it was non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
At that time, Rezac went through six months of chemotherapy and 20 days of radiation. She went into remission until 2003, when she noticed a swelling in her groin area. The cancer had recurred, and after more chemotherapy, she was identified as a candidate for an autologous stem cell transplant. Her own stem cells were harvested and then transplanted following high doses of chemotherapy.
Since the successful transplant, Rezac has spent the last five years… living! "You see things so much differently. I thank the Lord for the trees, the snow…and all my blessings." She's enjoyed precious time with her two grown sons and their families, which includes four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. She loves her part-time job as a nanny for a local family.
Her doctors at Avera Hematology and Transplant, Drs. Kelly McCaul and Vinod Parameswaran, as well as the nurses, care coordinators and pharmacists, became like family. "I don't think I could have had better doctors. It was so nice to have my transplant done here at Avera and not have to travel out of town," Rezac said. She continues to be part of a Bone Marrow Transplant Support Group at the Avera Transplant Institute, and shares her experience with others who are candidates for this specialized treatment.
She's also thankful she heeded that still, small voice which told her to turn around, and ask the doctor about the lump in her neck. "I felt fine - I had no idea I had cancer," Rezac said. Her doctor told her that if she hadn't acted quickly, her body could have been filled with cancer. "After this, I always say, listen to your body. If anything feels unusual, get it checked out."