Thanksgiving is without question one of my favorite holidays. In fact, I will go as far as saying that it is my clear-cut number one. Food, family and football, my idea of a perfect day. I get to be with people that I love, eat some of my favorite foods and sit around the TV to watch the Macy’s Day parade & take in a full day of football. I look forward to it every year. Recently, Thanksgiving has held a little more meaning to me. It is a constant reminder to reflect on what I am thankful for and to not sweat the small stuff. It was three years ago today, that I was lying in a hospital bed, fighting for my life. I had no appetite from chemotherapy & radiation; no desire to even touch my hospital “Thanksgiving dinner”.

Lately, there are two additional days circled each year on my calendar. July 13th, the day that I was diagnosed with A.L.L. (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia). The quick definition of A.L.L is, “cancer found in your blood and bone marrow and is caused by the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells.”* The other day is November 27th, the day of my T-cell depleted stem cell transplant. My ‘new’ birthday, the day I got my 2nd chance.

I will be the first to tell you, that the journey to get my transplant was not an easy one. Treatment involved what you may expect. Chemotherapy. All day. Heavy, intense chemotherapy & full body radiation that would last a full week. The plan of action for my treatment, was to bring my immune system down to where I had zero white blood cells, perform the transplant, and then let my body build my immune system back up. The biggest hurdle in all of this was finding someone to be my donor. Through all of the fear and uncertainty, the silver lining was my brother Jason, my only sibling. There was a 25% chance of Jason being a perfect match to be the donor for my required transplant. If he wasn’t a match, then I would have to reach out to the national donor list. However, as luck would have it, my brother was a perfect match. After the transplant, I spent three weeks in the hospital, followed by 100 days of isolated recovery.

Three years have gone by, and I remain cancer free (knock wood). People are naturally curious and ask me, “What was the most difficult part of fighting cancer?” “What was radiation like?” “Is chemo as bad as they say it is?“ Well, to be honest, it was all difficult. Hell, it was really, really hard to get through. It is easy to say you are thankful on Thanksgiving. But ask a cancer patient, fighter, survivor…? Odds are they are truly thankful EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Hear their story. Listen to what they are doing to get to the next day. It will move you. It will show you not to sweat the small stuff. People fighting cancer and those that have beaten it, are some of the toughest people in my opinion. Ask yourself, if G-d forbid you were put in that situation, how would you fight, get through it, SURVIVE it?

Want to know what one of the most difficult parts was during my battle? It was not being at a table with my family on Thanksgiving. Of course they visited, but having them dressed in gowns, gloves & face masks just wasn’t as homey as you might think. So, yes, I am very excited to celebrate today, as Thanksgiving is now my “Transplant-aversary.” And I look forward to celebrating my third ‘new birthday’.

So here it goes: I am thankful to be here today, with you, sharing my story and what motivated me to start Layups 4 Life. I am thankful for my health, my family, friends & my fiancé. I am thankful to all of those who have been a part of Layups 4 Life and believe that what we are doing is making a difference in the fight against cancer. We have done some incredible things in only two years and I look forward to the journey that lies ahead

Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

Dan Exter
Layups 4 Life









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