The road to recovery

The road to recovery

Savannah Whitmer, Lead Reporter

Calculus teacher Andrew Stallings’ students have noticed a change in his appearance. Stallings is now bald as a result of high-dose chemotherapy he received this summer to treat  cancer.

“Basically I’m recovering from chemotherapy,” Stallings said. “I was treated near the beginning of summer and the kind of chemotherapy that I had was a stem cell transplant. And so I had to take high-dose chemotherapy to treat multiple myeloma, which is a cancer of the bone marrow.”

This is the second time Stallings has been treated and he is currently in remission for multiple myeloma. Stallings’ previous remission lasted eight years.

“In order to treat multiple myeloma, I collected stem cells eight years ago, because I went through this before, and that’s after knocking down the cancer to where it I was in remission,” Stallings said. “I collected stem cells, and they were cryogenically preserved, or frozen, and then I had high dose chemotherapy, which basically kills your bone marrow. In doing that it pretty much kills the whole body. But right when you’re at that point of no return, you get your stem cells back, and you recover with no myeloma cells.”

He learned his cancer returned during an oncologist visit earlier this year.

“I have to go to the oncologist every four months, and I have to have bloodwork and urine work done every four months,” Stallings said. “So they’re looking for certain red flags in that lab and two of the three flags started to rear their heads. Bence jones proteins started to show up, which is basically an indicator that the multiple myeloma is active.”

The return of the cancer was difficult for Stallings, acting as a draining detour on his road to remission.

“I was devastated, I was depressed, because it was an interruption of my life, and it’s very scary,” Stallings said. “But still, I knew that I would come out the other end of it and be in remission again. The question is how long the remission will last. So that’s always in the back of my mind. Will it be eight years this time? Or will it only be four years or will it only be a year? It’s always in the back of your mind but you get used to the idea that, okay, this is just the way your life is going to go.”

After learning that the cancer was active, he assured his family that he would soon be in remission again.

“I told my kids that the cancer had come back, but they didn’t need to worry because I could be treated for it,” Stallings said.  “And that it was going to completely mess up my summer, and that I would become very weak, and I would lose all my hair; but then I would get stronger and my hair would grow back and that everything was going to be okay. I told them it was going to be stressful and I know that you’re worried, but you also have to know that I’m going to be okay. I was as reassuring as I could possibly be, because I knew in my heart that I was going to come out at the other end of it and be able to come back to work at the beginning of the year, even though I would look different and I would be thinner.”

Stallings spent much of the summer in the hospital receiving treatment that weakened his body, but killed the cancer cells.

“He’s officially in remission, as of a few weeks ago, but it was pretty hard for him this year,” freshman John Stallings said. “He was in the hospital for a long time, and it’s just is kind of scary, I guess. Our family tries to be supportive of him.”

Although Stallings received his last treatment in June, chemotherapy affects the body long after the process is finished.

“I reassured them that I was going to be okay, but they were worried, and I know that it affected them,” Stallings said. “Just to see me, in a state where I had to ask everybody for help because when I got out of the hospital I was so weak I could barely walk, and then my strength started to return after two or three weeks. It takes about a year to fully recover and then some people recover a little sooner, some people a little later. At my age, I’m thinking a year before my immune system is back, and even then, it might be a little bit longer. And I feel a lot better than I did a month ago.”

Because high-dose chemotherapy temporarily kills hair follicles, Stallings remains without hair, even though he is not currently being treated.

“He made it out fine, and now he’s doing great, but he’s still bald,” junior Logan Stallings said. “So that’s what’s freaking everybody out. He’s taking it really well. His students love him. We were all there for him over the summer, so we didn’t go on any long trips, but it was nice to have family time. I know a bunch of my friends thought he was still going through chemo, because he’s bald, but he’s done with that, and he’s just waiting for his hair to grow back.”

Despite the exhaustion that is a lasting result of treatment, Stallings isn’t too tired to teach.

“It’s been a challenge to maintain my same energy, because usually I can work until about 7:30 p.m., but I find that I wear out around 5 o’clock,” Stallings said. “And that’ll get better. But you know, I love teaching, so I feel like I just fall right back into it. I don’t really think about being tired. I’m not really tired when I’m teaching.”

Having now been in remission twice, Stallings considers cancer to be a part of his life that he has to live with.

“The way I’m thinking about it is that I’m not dying from cancer, I’m living with cancer. It’s not exactly like my buddy, living with my buddy cancer, but I have no choice, I have to live with the idea that it will come back, I will come out of remission, and I’ll have to do something else at some point, but hopefully it’s years down the line.”

With or without hair, Stallings continues to stay positive.

“What I’m going through shows that there’s some great hope for other people who have cancer or whose family members have cancer,” Stallings said. “Just believe in your doctors, no matter how bad it gets, there’s great hope that you’re going to pull through to the other side. And that’s what I’m doing, I’m pulling through to the other side.”