Mom of toddler: “It’s OK to feel sad and overwhelmed”

A rare cancer diagnosis isn’t the first blow Lara Aikman has faced. With the support of her family, she’s determined to triumph over this disease.

Nancy Benson issues a warning to guests entering her daughter’s hospital room at IU Health University Hospital: “There may be tears. In fact, there may be lots of tears.”

Sitting near a window bundled in two blankets made by her friends, Lara Aikman attempts to smile as she talks about the disappointments in a life that spans less than three decades. As she listens, her mother shakes her head as if such heartache should happen to someone much older.

At 29, Aikman has lost her father, uncle, and father-in-law to lung cancer. She’s experienced the grief of miscarriage and has mourned the loss of her second pregnancy. She was induced at 24 weeks with a little boy named “Charlie,” who passed in 2016 diagnosed with Trisomy 13, a genetic defect.

“She almost died then. She had preeclampsia so bad that her blood pressure was super high and her liver and kidneys were severely affected,” said Benson.

In June she faced more distressful news. After two bone marrow biopsies she was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). The condition occurs when blood-forming cells become abnormal. It’s often referred to as “bone marrow failure disorder.” According to the MDS Foundation 75 percent of patients diagnosed are 60 years or older. An estimated 60 to 170,000 people live with MDS in the United States. There are about 87,000 new cases worldwide each year. A stem cell transplant is considered the only way to potentially cure MDS.

“I had no symptoms. I felt fine. I had to go for a routine physical for work and was referred to a hematologist,” said Aikman. Not only was the news a shock, it came at a time of her life when she was just beginning to welcome the joy of marriage and motherhood.

A 2009 graduate of Washington High School, Aikman met her husband Robbie when she was a senior. He was starting his freshman year of college. After high school she enrolled in the University of Southern Indiana but switched to Vincennes University to be closer to Robbie. They married on Nov. 23, 2013 in front of about 200 guests at St. James Lutheran Church in Holland, Ind. The wedding party was dressed all in black and white and the bridesmaids carried bouquets of roses accented with peacock feathers. The couple enjoyed a cruise for their honeymoon and settled back in Washington, Ind.

After the loss of two pregnancies, they welcomed a son Cooper who turns two on September 18. That milestone is one that helps Aikman focus on getting well.

A stem cell transplant on August 15 falls on the same day her father would have turned 72. Under the care of hematologists/oncologists Dr. Larry Cripe and Dr. Robert Nelson she has been on transfusion support twice a week since the end of May.

“My brother Dustin was tested and was a half match but we found a perfect match through the bone marrow registry – a 29-year-old male,” said Aikman. “Actually she learned on her birthday on July 3 that there were three perfect matches and that was the best birthday present of all,” added her mom.

“I miss being with my boys – going to the park, the zoo, and museums,” said Aikman. “We’re a tough resilient family and we put our faith in God. We also know it’s ok to cry and that everyone goes through trials. If I were to give anyone any advice I’d definitely say, ‘It’s ok to feel sad and overwhelmed.’”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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