Michael Bragalone was extremely busy—he had a full-time job a 6-month-old daughter and he had started taking weekend college classes—when he noticed he was more fatigued than normal. Michael blamed the exhaustion on his lifestyle and didn’t think anything of it until his wife, Candace, recommended he see a family doctor.
When a routine blood test showed that Michael was somewhat anemic, he was referred to a hematologist and underwent several more tests. In March 2001, after six months of testing, he was diagnosed with a rare, incurable form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma, or Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia.
“I remember staring like a deer in the headlights wondering what the doctor was saying,” Michael says, “but I wasn’t willing to give up upon hearing those ugly words ‘you have cancer.’”
After being diagnosed, Michael began his 15-year cancer battle at the OSUCCC – James. He went through his first round of chemotherapy before going into a yearlong remission. In the spring of 2003, his cancer was progressing and he underwent another round of chemotherapy. However, his treatment was stopped after discovering he had an allergic reaction to this new drug.
Throughout the next four years, Michael stopped treatment and worked with his oncologist at the OSUCCC – James to maintain his disease. During this time, he struggled with anemia, as well as the challenge of working full time.
“Daily, I remember driving home from work with exhaustion from anemia,” Michael says. “I literally felt like I was sleeping walking through life with no energy.”
With the support of his wife, he made it through this difficult period and started treatment again in the spring of 2007. After six months, he went into remission. For the first time in years, he was feeling well and took the opportunity to visit close friends in Seattle with his family.
While in remission, Michael and his family received devastating news. His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Believing their family would make it through her diagnosis together, they stayed optimistic and prepared for her cancer journey.
After another round of treatment and a short remission, Michael started to experience neuropathy. His neurologist conducted tests and discovered that cancer cells had spread into his spinal fluid. Without delay, Michael’s neurologist worked with his oncologist at the OSUCCC – James to treat him. After numerous monthly treatments, his spinal fluid was cancer-free.
By the summer of 2015, Michael’s immune system was extremely weak, and a routine blood test showed he had other abnormal cells in his blood. He was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a rare blood disorder that can develop into acute myeloid leukemia. Due to the risks of MDS, Michael’s doctor suggested he undergo a donor bone marrow transplant.
After searching the National Marrow Donor database, the OSUCCC – James found a donor: an 18-year-old man from Israel who was a 100 percent match.
After a 15-year cancer battle, Michael received a donor marrow transplant on July 7, 2016, and is cancer-free. He now shares his experiences with OSUCCC – James leadership, faculty and staff as a patient and family adviser.
“I gave cancer the knockout punch it so deserved. I won!” Michael says. “I’m excited to help and inspire others with cancer.”
Reflecting on his journey, he credits his wife and children, Madalyn and Grant, for helping him survive cancer. Candace believed Michael would be cured, and her courage and strength helped guide him and their family through this difficult time. Sadly, after a four-year battle with an aggressive breast cancer, Candace died in December 2012.
Michael and his family have been through many challenges, but he believes his faith in God, support from friends, and compassionate care from doctors and staff at the OSUCCC – James have helped them through it all. Every day he is grateful for his second chance at life.