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Published on May 23, 2018

Kristin Van Laecken

A Changed Life: After Bone Marrow Transplant

Bone marrow transplant patient Kristin Van Laecken was having a follow-up exam at the Prairie Center, home of the Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls, when she realized it was one year – to the day – since she’d learned she had leukemia. That news changed everything for the Watertown mother of five and her family.

That particular follow-up appointment was filled with good news for Van Laecken. She had blood drawn, and reviewed her various numbers with Kristen Hurley, CNP, as well as the physician who guided her through this entire complex, journey, Kelly McCaul, MD.

Amongst the best news was the fact she was literally cleared for takeoff: Van Laecken and her husband, Rob, along with Rob’s parents, made plans to travel to France in February, to visit Paris and to bathe in the healing waters of a natural spring near Lourdes.

One of the most long-lasting lessons Van Laecken’s gained over the course of this journey, which included chemotherapy, a search for a bone-marrow donor and much more, is the reality of the support system around her.

It starts with her husband, naturally, and in fact he was sending texts and asking questions during her exam, wanting to see phone-photos of information on the screen, in between patients at his orthodontic practice. It continues to their children, who range in age from the 2- and 4-year-old boys to the three girls, ages 6, 10 and 12. If Van Laecken says the word, they’re her first-responder team, ready to help Mom, no matter what.

“There are just so many cogs in the machine that helps me, but it’s all nothing without God,” Van Laecken said. “There are good days and bad ones, and some days I have no energy at all, so long-term commitments are tough. Actually, just scheduling a hair appointment can be tricky.”

But faith is something, like her tight-knit family, that hasn’t faltered.

“It’s comforting to know that I have to trust that faith, and that He has this,” she said.

Kristin’s mother, Elizabeth Johnson, and her father, Mark, joined the efforts in Watertown last year, moving from Minnesota to be closer and help as they can.

“It takes an army and we have one – Kristin’s Army is amazing,” Johnson said. “Watertown has been amazing to us all. So many nice folks, and they keep fighting alongside us, reminding us over and over that they’re here for us. It’s just been an amazing experience. Kristin’s a tough cookie – but that army is always ready to help.”

Van Laecken said Hurley, McCaul and her entire care team at the Prairie Center were blessings during the decisive days, weeks and months that led up to her April 11, 2017 bone marrow transplant. Yet once the hospitalization was over, she returned home, and that “Kristin’s Army” came to her aid.

“Each day, finding so many positive surprises, and so many people who generously, and sometimes anonymously, came to help us,” she said. “I learned through this process that you don’t have to – you really cannot – do it all on your own. You have to let people in – and be patient with yourself. I came to understand that these people love me for who I am, even on the really rough days. They still love me for me, no matter what.”

The shower of blessings, and the journey itself, while daunting and tear-filled at times, is something she feels a unique gratitude for experiencing.

“I do not want to go back to the experience, but at the same time, I wouldn’t change it,” she said. “You learn a lot facing this sort of thing. I am learning to be patient with me, to put things in God’s hands and to realize how faith can guide you through anything.”

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