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Annual Relay for Life carries on the fight

POSTED: May 12, 2014 7:09 p.m.
Photo by Pat Donahue/

Laura Pratt takes to the track during one of the caregiver laps at the Relay for Life.

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The birthday on her driver’s license may read differently, but Laura Pratt also now has May 7 circled on the calendar.

Pratt, who spoke at Friday night’s Effingham Relay for Life, now calls May 7 her re-birth day as it’s the day she got her stem cells back in her battle with mantle cell lymphoma.

“I have never been to a Relay for Life before, and it is wonderful,” she said.

Pratt was diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma after she went for an annual blood test.

“I didn’t have any symptoms,” she said. “We were devastated when we found out the news.”

When Pratt got the diagnosis — her platelets were low, she said — she told the doctor those results must have gotten mixed up with someone else’s. On Oct. 4, 2012, she was diagnosed with stage 4 mantle cell lymphoma. Mantle cell is rare, affecting about 5 percent of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients.

By Oct. 30, she was undergoing her first chemotherapy treatment.

“It was not just one bag in my chemo session,” she said. “It was a boxful.”

Pratt underwent transfusions of blood and platelets and also sounded a call for blood donations.

“If you’ve never given blood or platelets, please do, because there is a great need,” she said. “There is always a great shortage.”

After six months of chemo, Pratt was declared to be in remission.

“My husband and I were so excited,” she said.

There was still another step, however. Pratt had to go the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla., for a stem cell transplant. She had to have her own stem cells harvested, and she had one more week of what she described as very strong chemo to kill any cancer left.

It took five hours a day for three days to extract 5 million stem cells. On May 7, 2013, she got her stem cells back.

“All along, I was very sick,” Pratt said, “but I stayed strong, kept my faith and prayer was my key.”

Pratt also relied on her friends and her husband, and her co-workers at DeWitt Insurance Agency also pitched in. One friend took her to infusion treatments and another always had the right message for her on a daily inspirational card during her stay at the Mayo.

Even with medical insurance, there are still co-payments and out-of-pocket expenses, so her co-workers put together a yard sale to help offset the costs.

Meanwhile, her husband shaved his head in support, as Pratt lost all of her hair.

“He was my rock,” she said. “He was wonderful.”

Pratt will have to return to the Mayo for checkups and immunizations. Because her blood levels were so low, her immune system suffered. She now has to be aware of her surroundings and can’t be around someone who is sick.

“They have always stressed, ‘do not get sick,’” she said.

Pratt has a book of pictures she took throughout her diagnosis and treatment called “My Journey.”

“Please take pictures,” she said. “It helps you remember what you went through. It’s a hard, hard road.”

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