Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

January 23, 2014

Finding her match

Andover mother seeking stem cell transplant for daughter

By Bill Burt
bburt@andovertownsman.com

---- — Tina Habeeb met one of her neighbors on Saturday morning. But it wasn’t on her street while she was out for a walk or at the local convenience store.

It was at Latitude Sports Club in Methuen, where Habeeb was helping run the “Be The Match” Bone Marrow Registry Drive on behalf of her daughter, Cathy Sheehan of Boxford, who is in need of a stem cell match to help cure her leukemia.

The neighbor was prompted to show up after reading a story on the bone marrow registry drive last week in The Townsman’s sister paper, The Eagle-Tribune,

“She had seen me around,” Habeeb said. “And she decided to come here, give a mouth swab and meet me. It was special.”

Nine months ago, Habeeb’s only daughter, Cathy, a 44-year-old, married mother of three complained of always being tired.

“I told her, ‘No kidding! You work five jobs!” recalled Habeeb, referring to her daughter’s job as account manager with Hewlett-Packard as well as her part-time work teaching spin classes for 11 years at Latitude Sports Club in Salisbury.

After returning from a vacation and still struggling with fatigue, Sheehan, who lives in Boxford, went to the doctor on a Friday for blood tests. The doctor immediately ruled out mononucleosis, but told her further testing would occur over the weekend.

On Monday, while at the hairdresser, Sheehan’s doctor called her cellphone and told her that she had acute myeloid leukemia and needed to get to the hospital immediately.

Fast-forward nine months.

Habeeb read with great interest an inspiring story in The Eagle-Tribune a few weeks ago about a 22-year-old Plaistow, N.H., native who gave up the end of his college track career to go through the painful process of donating 2 quarts of bone marrow to a complete stranger with hopes of curing a rare form of leukemia.

As hoped, amazingly, the stranger has been completely cured.

It’s a story Habeeb, prays will be written again some day soon about her daughter, who is undergoing treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, where she is dealing with the daily struggles of having the potentially deadly blood disorder.

Sheehan, who grew up in Methuen, is awaiting a stem cell transplant as opposed to bone marrow. The process of removing stem cells from an individual is much easier than bone marrow, which requires an overnight stay in the hospital and takes a long recovery for the donor, experts say.

Sheehan’s younger brother, Christopher Habeeb, was deemed a match and donated stem cells last summer. The process usually takes about 100 days before being considered a success. At Day 85, it failed, due to the presence of a bad gene (FLT3), which can make the leukemia worse.

Sheehan was back to square one.

“It’s not like having your appendix out and you deal with the pain or a certain part of your body,” Habeeb said last week. “This is your blood, all over your body. Every day is a new day with new challenges. ... (Monday) was a tough day. (Tuesday) was a better day. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever been around.”

Currently, there is no match in the national registry for Sheehan.

Which brought Habeeb to Methuen on Saturday. Sheehan’s husband, Tim, and three children — Audrey, 13; Nicole, 11; and Ethan, 7 — also were on hand to support the event, which drew more than 100 potential donors to the registry.

The event lasted two hours. Unfortunately, people had to be turned away because of the short window.

“They say 70 is a lot,” Habeeb said of typical turnouts. “We were ecstatic about the support. We didn’t know many of the people. They heard about Cathy’s story and they came. I can’t explain how thankful we are.”

There will be another drive on Saturday, Feb. 1, in Andover, which will last for four hours.

“We are already preparing for that drive, which will be longer and allow us to take more potential donors,” Habeeb said.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: “Be The Match” Bone Marrow Registry Drive, on behalf of Cathy Habeeb Sheehan, daughter of Andover resident Tina Habeeb.

WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 1, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

WHERE: Minuteman Park in the Brickstone Properties, off River Road, Andover

WHY: To give a mouth swab and see if you could be a bone marrow or stem cell match for someone with leukemia. The entire process takes just 15 minutes.

HOW: Visit www.bethematch.org or contact Leigh Sullivan with the organization at 617-632-5694.