Young Leukemia Patient Remains Positive Despite Two Relapses

An Unexpected Diagnosis

In April 2012, Thomas Boscardin, then 24, was celebrating his two-year anniversary with his girlfriend, Gracie. Thomas and Gracie were dating long distance — he was in Omaha, Ne., and she was in Springfield, Mo.

A few days before a visit to see Gracie, Thomas was experiencing a sore throat and cough. He decided to see his doctor. His symptoms looked like bronchitis so he was prescribed antibiotics. Though he wasn’t getting any better, Thomas still went to Springfield. New symptoms appeared — he was spiking fevers and his throat was hurting worse — and Gracie noticed he had lost weight.

When Thomas returned home to Omaha, his doctor performed a chest X-ray. The X-ray revealed a large mass in one of Thomas’ lungs, just next to his heart. The doctor admitted Thomas right away. After further tests, Thomas was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a form of cancer in which the body produces too many abnormal white blood cells in the blood and bone marrow.

“When the doctor told me I had leukemia, it didn’t make any sense,” says Thomas. “I was 24 and perfectly healthy.” For 26 days, Thomas received inpatient chemotherapy. Despite the difficult treatment, Thomas remained optimistic. “The chemotherapy was tough, but I had Gracie, my family and my friends,” says Thomas. “It was hard to stay down with their support.”

After his first round of chemotherapy, Thomas went into remission. He resumed his normal life.

Two Haploidentical Transplants

Almost a year after his diagnosis, Thomas and Gracie moved to St. Louis to begin new careers. In September 2014, Thomas started having stomach pains. He went in to see his doctor, who ran a few tests. That evening, Thomas was attending a St. Louis Cardinals game supporting cancer patients called Strikeout Cancer when he received a call from his doctor. There were masses in his stomach. Thomas and Gracie immediately went to the hospital. His cancer was back.

Thomas wearing a banana suit during his first transplant. See Thomas' photo gallery.
Thomas wearing a banana suit during his first transplant. See Thomas’ photo gallery.

For relapsed ALL, Thomas needed a bone marrow transplant, but no matches could be found. His second option was a haploidentical transplant, in which Thomas’ dad could be his donor. Thomas was referred to Siteman Cancer Center, one of the top transplant facilities in the country, and was put under the care of John DiPersio, MD, Washington University’s Chief of Oncology.

Thomas was admitted to the hospital on Christmas Eve to begin preparation for his transplant. The transplant took only 15 minutes, but for the next few days, Thomas experienced intense side effects — body aches, fever and delirium. After three weeks, Thomas was feeling better and returned home. “This was just another road bump,” says Thomas. “I knew I was going to be okay.”

Only a few weeks after being discharged from the hospital, Thomas went to Mardi Gras with Gracie, an annual tradition he didn’t want to miss. After a few more months of recovery, Thomas also began work again at a production company, training to be a producer.

But Thomas’ cancer came back for a second time in October 2015. Before his relapse, Thomas had planned to propose to Gracie, and he wouldn’t let cancer get in the way. On December 6th, five days before Thomas was admitted to the hospital, he and Gracie were married at a small ceremony in the park.

With his new wife by his side, Thomas received his second haploidentical transplant — this time from his mother. While his recovery was more difficult, the transplant was successful. Thomas was discharged from the hospital four weeks later.

Support Throughout Treatment

Throughout his treatment at Siteman Cancer Center, Thomas was cared for by a multidisciplinary team of oncologists, specialists and nurses. “The entire team was exemplary from the nurses to my nurse practitioner. They addressed every little ache and pain and answered every worry and question. And I could tell Dr. DiPersio wanted the win just as much as I did. His confidence made me more confident,” says Thomas. “Part of what helped me stay positive was knowing I had a strong team on my side.”

Thomas also credits his recovery to the support of his wife, Gracie. “Gracie has been the strongest person through all of this,” says Thomas. “We inspired each other through this journey. When one of us was down, we pulled the other up. Having her there made it so much more bearable.”

Today, Thomas, 29, is cancer-free. He works as a freelance producer on a range of commercial, corporate, and other video projects. When he isn’t working, Thomas and Gracie enjoy traveling, cooking, brewing beer and playing with their dog, Rocky. They are also planning a wedding to celebrate their marriage with family and friends.

Thomas encourages and inspires other leukemia patients with his positive attitude. “What you’re going through now is temporary. If you have to wallow, that’s okay, but try to focus on the future,” says Thomas. “What you have ahead is your life and all the beautiful things you will see and love.”