Sailor needs bone marrow match to survive leukemia

12 Apr 2005 | Lance Cpl. Matthew K. Hacker

“We must live today, because tomorrow is not promised.” Those are the motivating words that help Petty Officer 3rd Class V. Casino Eatmon, religious program specialist, through each day, after being diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia Feb. 10, 2004.

In early 2004, the Wilson, N.C., native was having unusual pains in his joints. The pain eventually reached a point where he had to go to the Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital and have it checked out. He was already on so many painkillers and still having pain, so a blood test was ran to find out what could be the case.

The hospital discovered he had leukemic cells inside his blood.
That same day he was sent to the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Md., because they have the leading cancer ward for service members and their families in the nation, according to Eatmon.

“The first few days in Bethesda was focused on making me comfortable and decreasing my pain,” said Eatmon. “After that, they started doing procedures to get my white blood cell count down.”

The average person’s white blood cell count is typically around 5,000 to 10,000, but Eatmon’s count was over 275,000.

The hospital lowered his white blood cell count and proceeded with a bone marrow biopsy, which determined the type of leukemia he had.

After being certain he had CML, his physicians prescribed a fairly new drug called Gleevac to fight its aggression.

“Gleevac is pretty much chemotherapy in the form of a pill,” said Eatmon. “But even though it’s easier to just swallow a few pills, the side affects are still the same as getting it in your arm.”

Eatmon continued treatment in Bethesda for 30 days and worked not only on improving his health, but also improving the mental health of others.

“In Bethesda they had me go around to the other patients to cheer them up, because they said I was so positive given all I had endured,” said Eatmon. “I enjoyed it very much – morale boosting is what I do being a [religious program specialist].”

In August 2004, Eatmon had been told his cancer had filtered into remission after five months chemotherapy.

The Bethesda physicians said Eatmon recovered so much faster and more effectively because he was in such good health before, during and after his remission.

A transplant is still needed for Eatmon since Gleevac is meant only to postpone the need for a bone marrow transplant. The drug is still new and no one really knows how long it will postpone the need for the transplant, according to Eatmon.

“Finding a bone marrow match is much more difficult than finding a blood match,” said Eatmon. “There are other factors. Certain tissues need to match and blood cell counts and consistency of hemoglobin and a whole bunch of stuff, so it takes much longer.”

One of the reasons Eatmon has not found a bone marrow match yet is because there are not enough people in the Department of Defense family becoming donors for him to find a match, according to Eatmon.

Eatmon is receiving so much support for the upcoming, DoD-wide blood drive April 12 at the Naval Hospital here. This will give all willing service members, dependents and civilian Marines the chance to save a life with a simple blood sample.

“Not only are the people coming to the drive potentially saving my life, they can leave knowing that they are definitely saving someone’s life out there who needs a match,” said Eatmon.

Although a match is needed to beat his Leukemia, Eatmon doesn’t dwell on his situation, according to him.

Given Eatmon’s circumstances he doesn’t let them control his life. He still finds time to spend with his wife and three children at their Jacksonville home. Eatmon enjoys playing Latin percussion instruments such as bongos, congas and timbales.

He loves playing them so much that he attended the Winston Salem State University School of Music to further enhance his playing abilities. Eatmon also completed his bachelor’s degree in business at the Coastal Carolina Community College after he had been diagnosed.

“I wasn’t going to let anything get me dropped from college,” said Eatmon. “Getting that degree was so important to me.”

Another important goal of Eatmon’s is to bring awareness to the military community.
For more information pertaining to the DoD-wide blood drive at the Naval Hospital April 12, or more on how to assist in saving a life, contact the C.W. Young/DoD Marrow Donor Program at 1-800-MARROW-3 or visit the Web site at www.dodmarrow.com.