This is the story of how a 72-year-old man won a battle with cancer, and how you can help men and women like Richard who are battling cancer.
Self-deprecating and wry, Richard Todd is the kind of man who could only come from the American Midwest. He believes in personal reasonability and the right to make his own happiness. His speech has the gentle laziness of a man who has all the time in the world. On the surface there is nothing particularly striking or heroic about Richard’s brand of quiet dignity. Yet Richard Todd managed to become a medical miracle by beating leukemia in 44 days.
To understand how Richard Todd overcame his illness, you must first understand his story. His recovery wasn’t the result of fabulous genetics, (his father and sister both died of heart failure), perfect health (at 72, he’s already survived two heart attacks), or an amazing HMO. The only thing Richard had on his side was a supportive community to help him, and the healing power of his own faith and positive attitude.
Early this year, Richard Todd was a man in recovery: he had survived his second heart attack, and though his heart was healing, he was still short of breath. Both Richard’s GP and his cardio-pulmonologist found nothing wrong—he seemed completely healthy. But on February 3, Richard came home from church sick, vomiting and nauseated. Recognizing what he thought were the signs of another heart attack, Richard had his wife of 55 years drive him to the emergency room. It was there that the blood tests came back: his white blood count was 132. He had leukemia.
At first Richard’s reaction was one of total disbelief: he told the doctor’s he wouldn’t accept what had been put in his body, and he would be healed. After two bouts with his heart, after watching his mother slowly die of Alzheimer’s, Richard was not about to give up now, after he had worked so hard for health and happiness.
Richard’s sunny outlook was soon clouded over by doubt. Immediately after his diagnosis, Richard came down with acute bronchitis and had to be hospitalized. Then as he was being discharged, his insurance company told him they weren’t going to be covering his cancer therapy. For Richard, this was the first blow that had the power to shake his faith that he would be alright. At $4,000 a month, there was no way to pay for even a fraction of the medical costs. His HMO had abandoned him.
Because of the red tape that surrounds pre-existing HIPA laws, there was no way for Richard’s doctors to advise him on alternative funding for treatment. But help was still able to find Richard, where he least expected it. A devout Pentecostal, Richard has a close-knit relationship with the members of his congregation, all of whom have a deep faith in the power of personal healing. At church the following Sunday, an acquaintance asked Richard if he had heard of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a non-profit group which helps provide financial relief to families battling cancer. Richard was put in contact with a representative from the society who consulted with Richard and his doctor to discuss the best treatment options available. A few days later, Richard was handed a month’s supply of Gleevec, a cutting-edge new drug from Novartis.
Unlike traditional chemotherapy medicines, Gleevec doesn’t target rapidly dividing cells blindly. It’s a drug which is drawn to a particular type of enzyme produced by a particular kind of lymphoma cell. Richard had a hard time taking the drug, knowing how much others had sacrificed so that he might receive a $26 pill. Yet Richard was supremely grateful: a grandfather of 14 and a great-grandfather of 5, he felt as if God was answering his prayers.
What makes organizations like the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society so effective is that they allow patients to fully concentrate on recovery. A huge number of cancer patients die from issues only tangentially related to their disease. They die of malnutrition, they die of pneumonia because of their weakened immune system, and they simply give up because they are overwhelmed by the burden of finances and insurance headaches. Optimism and a positive outlook are more than just new-age mantras; they’re just as vital to the success of a patient as a drug like Gleevec. Richard’s insistence that he would indeed survive is one of the reasons that he did. All of his energy was focused on healing his body; everything else was taken care of by his friends, his family, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
April 11, just 44 days after he was diagnosed with leukemia, Richard Todd returned to the hospital for a check up. His doctor was absolutely shocked by the results. In less than two months, Richard’s white blood cell count had gone from 132 to a mere 5.9. The cancer hadn’t just gone into remission; it had been cured. Richard would be around to see the birth of his 6th great-grandchild. Richard Todd had survived.
Richard Todd’s story is one of amazing odds: because of a rare combination of medical support, a fantastic new drug, and a positive attitude, he was able to beat leukemia with astonishing speed. While his results are truly miraculous, it’s easy to see how things could have ended very differently. If Richard had not found the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Kansas City, he would have died months ago.
This story is the reason why Cells for Cells is recycling and supporting groups like the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. By helping Richard and his family every step of the way, the Society gave Richard the peace of mind to concentrate on his own health. Asked if he had any advice for those who struggle against the odds, Richard said (with his characteristic bluntness) “Stay positive—if you don’t you’re a fool.”
By donating your old cell phones to Cells for Cells, together, we can help raise money and awareness for those who are battling cancer. Just like with Richard Todd’s story, sometimes little things make all the difference.
Note: We had published Richard’s story last year and in our website upgrade, lost the links to the original. This is a powerful story so I wanted to get it back up. I hope you enjoyed it – Jason