"Every few weeks she goes for a routine doctor's appointment before she's admitted [for chemotherapy] and so he told us the last time that there were a couple of potential donors," said Reid, a Cartersville resident. "So when they came walking into the room ... I'm going to start crying just thinking about it -- [when the doctor] came in there with the nurses and said, 'Well, we have a perfect match for you,' we just started crying. They still have to send the specimen to Emory [University Hospital] so they can run their own test and be sure it's all perfect, and it may be six or eight weeks before she gets [the procedure]. She's got to have three days of total radiation.
"Heather and I both cried because not finding a match is thinking ultimately you're going to die. That's what it boils down to, so that was her only really chance of survival. She'll still have to take oral chemo during the procedure because he said, 'If you didn't, then there's only a 50 percent chance of it working.' So we were just totally elated. I texted everybody in the immediate family right off the bat because we had just really been praying that we'd find a match for her."
Now residing in Athens, Cape -- a 1998 graduate of Cass High School -- and her husband, Jonathan, are the parents of a healthy daughter, Evalyn Rose, who was born on July 16. While Cape did not exhibit any initial symptoms, her condition worsened in October, leading her diagnosis to be changed from the more manageable chronic myelogenous leukemia to acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
"At first when I was diagnosed, it was just chronic myeloid leukemia, which is a big deal but not that big a deal," Cape said. "You just think you can take a pill for the rest of your life and I was going to be fine. So, of course, we were ecstatic that Evalyn was born healthy and whole. I was nervous about starting treatment but was hopeful it was going to go fine. The oral chemo was working for a couple of months, then it just stopped working. Then all of a sudden I was at Emory for three weeks and was told it had changed to the acute leukemia. ... After that initial three weeks there, I have to be at Emory four or five days out of every 21 days.
"So I'm roughly home about 16 days in between. So when I go, I'm on chemo the whole time and they also do something where they're actually putting chemo into my spine, so they're called lumbar punctures. People know them probably as spinal taps. So, I'm actually also getting chemo into my spine and brain, so the cancer won't spread there. So, that's what they do at the hospital and then in between I have to go to the doctor several times a week to get my blood checked, and sometimes I have to get transfusions of blood or platelets, just depending on how my counts are doing."
If Emory University Hospital's tests on the donated bone marrow deem it a successful match, in about seven weeks she will undergo radiation for three days to eradicate any existing healthy cells before the infusion, Reid said.
"What they are doing is totally wiping out my immune system and replacing it with a new immune system," Cape said. "So I will have all new bone marrow. So after I go through the chemo, I'll actually have to do radiation before I have the bone marrow. So I'll be completely wiped out. Then the stem cells will find their way into my bone marrow and kind of set up house and will grow throughout my body, and so I'll actually have new bone marrow that should produce what it needs to -- the right number of white blood cells, the right number of red blood [cells]."
Through their journey, Cape and her family have learned about the importance of bone marrow donors, becoming advocates for Be the Match Registry. Operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, the registry seeks people willing to donate bone marrow or umbilical cord blood for patients with diseases, such as leukemia and lymphoma.
"I've been a nurse for 15 years," Reid said, adding she and her husband, Ken, are receiving an overwhelming amount of support from family, friends and fellow church members at Oakland Heights Baptist in Cartersville. "I work at Kennestone, but I'm a heart nurse. I take care of people's hearts. ... One of the things that I have found that is so amazing about this whole thing is how simple it is to be a donor -- to get tested you just swab your mouth. I have even found or heard people that I work with say, 'Well, if I knew that it would be for Heather, I would do it.'
"So I am thinking to myself, it's not a whole lot different from giving blood. Why would you not want to save somebody's life, whether it was somebody you knew or didn't know? To me, that's a selfless act, and it's not a dangerous procedure anymore."
Through her blog, www.heatherwarrencape.blogspot.com, and being featured on Fox 5 Atlanta, Cape's story is inspiring others to participate in donor drives as well as lending support to her and her family.
"God is amazing in how he helps me get from one day to the next," Cape posted on her blog Friday. "I start each day seeking and praying for strength to make it through and get the things done that he feels is most important, not me. That means that the closet is still not organized, the kitchen is not arranged how I want it, and I don't have the energy to cook for our family. Praise the Lord that he has put so many people in our [lives] to support us with babysitting, prayers, food, and even financial support. We are truly blessed. I do believe that God's plan is perfect and that if it is his will for me to survive he is going to make me stronger and all of you believe in him more!
"I also know that Be the Match is going to play a huge part in my life. Besides the Fox news story, there is a donor drive at Athens Tech on Feb. 14th, a fundraiser in Atlanta called Laugh out Loud, and a newspaper article at the local paper in Cartersville. I just got off the phone with someone who is going to have a fundraiser and a possible drive in April at the Classic City Roller Girls bout they will be having in April. I have also heard of a church that may be doing a drive. God has already used this situation to get so many people to sign up. How many other lives will be saved because of this suffering that I have to go through? I may never know, well, I will in heaven."
For more information about Be the Match, visit www.marrow.org or call 1-800-627-7692. In addition to meeting health guidelines, donors need to be between the ages of 18 and 60.