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Lymphoma Awareness Day: Omaha patient has challenging, successful journey to recovery

Posted at 6:39 PM, Sep 15, 2023

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Looking at her now, you can't tell what Melissa Pierpoint has been through.

But in October 2021, she started to get sick. Her skin peeled. A mass formed on her right eye. She had fevers up to 105 degrees. Her resting heart rate reached 150 beats per minute. She miscarried a pregnancy.

The 29-year-old wife and mother of three was eventually diagnosed with anaplastic large 'T' cell lymphoma.

More than 100,000 Americans are diagnosed with lymphoma each year, according to the Lymphoma Research Foundation. It's the most common form of blood cancer.

3 News Now last spoke with Pierpoint, living in Rock Port, Missouri, nine months ago, just before the risky stem cell procedure that would save her life.

Learn more: 28-year-old cancer patient at Nebraska Medicine advocates for diversity in bone marrow registry

The best match her doctors could find for a donor was her half-sister, a 60% match. Her mom was set to be the donor, but her sister insisted she be checked as an option. The day came in January.

"It really scared me," Pierpoint said, "When you think of half match, you don't think it's going to fully work, you know? But, it has for me. It's a blessing."

She spent months in Omaha, receiving treatment at Nebraska Medicine.

In April, she got word she was in remission. She has been since. It was no guarantee. The science is improving, but it's best to have a full match. She found no luck in the registries of potential donors.

Doctors gave it a 70% chance of success. There's a significant risk the body doesn't accept the new cells. That causes graft versus host disease, which can be deadly.

"It was a scary process," said Pierpoint's mom, Francisca Bohling. "They told us, 'You don't know. It could go wrong.'"

She urged everyone to join the bone marrow registries, like Be The Match, by providing a cheek swab. She urged people to donate blood, which Pierpoint needed often.

Since the transplant, she's landed a job in special education and says she has a new attitude toward health. She's eating well and exercising. She says she's never felt better.

"My go-to phrase is 'see the good,'" Pierpoint said. "No matter what you're going through, there's always something good in your life. Just focus on that and it'll help you get through the hard times."

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