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Childhood Friends Battle Cancer Together with BMT Treatment

October 02, 2019

Meghan Woody and Spencer Keil were competitive friends from the moment they met each other as toddlers. Spencer played football and tennis. Meghan cheered throughout high school and ran cross country track. Both were also very strong academically. It didn’t surprise either family when both were accepted as pre-med students, Meghan at Boston College and Spencer at the University of Miami in Florida. Soon, however, excitement over school would turn to worry.

Meghan was diagnosed first. “Until you hear a diagnosis you kind of rationalize your problems away, but not leukemia.”

Within 6 months, Spencer was waging his personal war on non-Hodgkin lymphoma. “In the beginning it's a little bit of a whirlwind and you don't really know what's going on or what's in store ... it's all about taking it 1 day at a time and dealing with it step by step.”

Both Meghan and Spencer returned home to Kansas City for cancer treatment at The University of Kansas Cancer Center's blood and marrow transplant (BMT) program.

“Spencer used his own stem cells to support intensive chemotherapy to fight off the cancer which was successful,” explains Joseph McGuirk, DO, director of the BMT program. “Meghan, in contrast had leukemia of her bone marrow stem cells which required a donor.”

Both Spencer and Meghan recently reached their 100 days posttransplant, which is an important milestone in their recovery. They were among 215 stem cell transplants performed by The University of Kansas Hospital BMT program in 2011, which shattered the prior year’s record high volume. The program has completed more than 3,800 transplants since its inception.

“Since it began, we've grown into 1 of the largest transplant programs in the country,” Dr. McGuirk says. “We are 1 of the largest acute leukemia programs in the nation and our outcomes are second to none.”

He knows that for a fact. He quarterly tracks and compares The University of Kansas Hospital BMT outcomes to more than 100 other academic centers through the University Health System Consortium database to ensure patients are receiving the very best possible care.

Through better matching of donors, improved treatment options and supportive care, blood marrow transplantation has gone from being a last-ditch effort to save a patient’s life to becoming 1 of the best treatments for many life-threatening cancerous diseases including leukemia, lymphoma, various solid tumors and others cancers as well as bone marrow failure syndromes and immunodeficiency disorders.

Dr. McGuirk credits the community and hospital leadership for what he calls a “remarkable commitment” to The University of Kansas Hospital BMT program. He is equally proud of Meghan’s and Spencer’s road to recovery and plans for the future.

“They're both superstars and both following in my footsteps, although they have big shoes to fill,” Dr. McGurik observes with a grin. “In all seriousness, it is difficult to put into words how heartwarming it is and how exciting it is to take care of these 2 beautiful and very bright people who have spectacular futures ahead of them.”

Meghan Woody and Spencer Keil discuss their cancer journey and treatment at The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

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