Welcome to my “Collect Moments, Not Things” campaign! What you will find below is a small glimpse into my crazy, awesome, beautiful life. The objective of sharing my story is to raise awareness, inspire, and spread the love. Enjoy!
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Brendon! I grew up in a small suburban Massachusetts town an hour west of Boston. At age 13 I got my first taste of the iron game to preparing for football camp and I was hooked. Over the next five years, I pushed my body to its limits both in the gym and on the field. When I realized I wouldn’t be making the NFL anytime soon, I thought my next best option to win a Superbowl ring would be to become strength & conditioning coach.
With this dream tucked in my back pocket, I enrolled at Umass-Amherst where I double majored in exercise science and enjoying my new found freedom. Four years later I landed the best “job” in the world. As Confucius puts it “choose a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life”. I began my career at Mike Boyle’s Strength & Conditioning dubbed the #1 gym in America. It was there I had the opportunity to train all walks of life; youth athletes, pro athletes, weekend warriors, fat loss clients and so on...
After three years at MBSC, I was inclined to go to massage school. I am always looking to add another "tool" to my toolbox. Ultimately this led to the opening of my first business - Movement As Medicine, right inside the very gym I worked!
Two years went by, and I found myself running the internship program, writing the programming, teaching mentorships, & working with a great group of clients, athletes & trainers. Then I joined my second venture Certified Functional Strength Coach where my business partners & I travel all over the world to “Train the Trainers”. Grateful is all I have to say about that. Life is good.
Then, as it usually does, life has a good hard laugh at our “plans”. Exactly one year ago I found out I was going to be a father. To do this would require me and business a move to California which is a choice I made and will never regret. I have a beautiful five-month-old daughter. I live on a mountain overlooking the ocean, with amazing weather year round.
I can honestly say I live a life I never have to vacation or retire from.
Then, curveball number two….
What is this about?
Three months ago I noticed some unexplainable bruising on the left side of my chest. It looked like I got hit by a 90 mph softball. I took note of it, but I wrote it off as exercise/activity induced damage. A month later I got another softball-sized bruise on the left side of my leg. Again I chalked it up to my superhuman activity levels. A few days later I woke up, and my right leg looked as though I had beaten with a baseball bat. Hmmm….
That same day I took a flight of stairs where I stopped halfway because my calves burned like wildfire & by the time I reached the top my heart was beating like I had just run the Boston Marathon. That’s when I knew something was seriously wrong.
That next day I went to see my physician who immediately ordered blood work. Twelve hours later I was in the emergency room where a doctor sat me down and told me they thought I had Leukemia. With my head now spinning, the next doctor walks in to get a bone biopsy (yes, it's as fun as it sounds!). I was afraid of needles; now I'm afraid of drills! After a four-day hospital stay awaiting my fate I thankfully got great news; it wasn't cancer.
But if it’s not cancer dropping all my blood counts, then what was going on?
For the next three weeks, I got transfusions and blood work regularly done while they continued to search. They transferred my case to Stanford due to their extensive resources and on July 2nd I got my diagnosis. Aplastic Anemia. A fancy way of saying “Bone Marrow Failure.” A rare autoimmune disease with only 300 cases a year here in the US.
Less than 25% of my bone marrow is doing what it was designed to do; create white blood cells (that fight infection), create red blood cells (that transfer oxygen), create platelets (that clot the blood & prevent bruising).
What causes Aplastic Anemia and how is it treated?
How does someone who is 26 years old, who presumably lives a lifestyle get a rare autoimmune disease like Aplastic Anemia?
Doctors don’t know. It could be 100 things; a head cold, mold spores, lifestyle stress, or genetics. For most people it’s idiopathic; any disease or condition that arises spontaneously or for which the cause is unknown. Autoimmune diseases are still in their infancy when it comes to medical research, and the numbers of cases like mine are increasing at an alarming rate.
The only known cure for Aplastic Anemia is a bone marrow transplant. A similar treatment for those diagnosed with Leukemia or Lymphoma. The other option would be a round of intensive immunosuppression drugs, blood transfusions, and multiple prescriptions in an attempt to get my anemia to go into remission.
If we need to go the bone marrow route, my team at Stanford has agreed that it is probably best I move home to Boston to receive my treatment near my support system. After finding a donor who matches my HLA Type (technology is wild), treatment would begin with 10 to 14 days of intensive chemotherapy, and then 100 additional days of around the clock care. Full recovery of blood counts and the immune system can take anywhere from six months to a year. Finding a donor can take 2 to 3 months.
Until then I am keeping busy by controlling the things I can control. I am still working with a few clients per day, as it’s what I love to do, and it keeps my mind sharp. I am eating well (for me, I kindly ask you withhold any diet & supplement advice); I sleep 9 - 10 hours a night and exercising to my threshold. I’ve also run up my Amazon Prime account with every book I could find to educate myself on the subject. I plan to have my doctorate by the first of the year!
With that said I leave the doctors to THEIR business. I have two of the best Bone Marrow Transplant teams in the WORLD in Stanford & Dana-Farber working my case. They've dedicated their lives to helping people like me. I think I'll let them control what they can control.
Then what happens after that? Well, that’s left to (God, The Universe, Mother Nature, Chance) to decide, and that’s none of my business either.
My reality is something I’m learning to enjoy every bit of it.
How can you help?
# 1. Donate Blood - I would not be sitting here typing this without the many blood & platelet transfusions I’ve received over the past two months. Contact your local hospital to find the nearest blood bank. Employees and volunteers at your community blood bank can provide you with all the information you need to donate. For more information contact the American Red Cross - www.redcross.org or America's Blood Centers® - www.americasblood.org. In the United States, it is estimated that only 111 million citizens are eligible blood donors or 37% of the population. However, less than 10% donate annually.
“Every two seconds someone needs blood” - America’s Blood Center
#2. Be The Match - A bone marrow transplant (BMT) is the only known cure for Aplastic Anemia. Most often they recruit a sibling first because they are most likely to match but my only brother also has an autoimmune disease (severe Crohn's) leaving him ineligible. That means I am at the mercy of The National Marrow Donor Program's (NMDP) Be The Match® Registry if I should need it. Thankfully there 16 million amazing souls who are currently signed up for this program. With an average of more than 520 transplants a month, this program gives 17 patients each day hope for a future. If you don't save my life, you could save someone else's.
It is a simple mouth swab or blood test & FREE to join. Be the Match focuses on recruiting new registry members ages 18 to 44. Medical research shows that younger donors are best for patients and provide the greatest chance for transplant success. Because of this, doctors request donors in the 18 to 44 age group over 90% of the time. If you are between the ages of 45 and 60 and would to join the bone marrow registry, you must do so online. You will be asked to make a $100 payment to cover the cost to join.
“The cure for blood cancers is at the hands of ordinary people” - Be The Match
#3 Contribute - This money will be used to support my medical expenses and the costs of moving near Stanford or back to Boston. All additional funds will be donated to The Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation. The AAMDSIF has the highest quality rating that can be achieved by a charity according to Charity Navigator.
Having peace of mind knowing that my financials are taken care of while I heal is healing in itself. When this is over, I would like to provide that same peace of mind to others going through the same thing. I want to give back. These treatments are only available because of the research done before me. And the way people are going to continue to receive bone marrow transplants and find a cure to AA, is with the continuing research done after me.
What the money donated will go to:
- Medical Costs
- Moving closer to Stanford OR back home to Boston
- Flights & Transportation
- Transitioning back to work & life after treatment
- Sperm Banking
- Other unexpected costs
- Donated to AAMDS
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give” - Winston Churchill
#4 - Tell someone you love them. Tell someone you love them. As soon as you close this window I would like you to call, text, or email someone and tell them you love them. If you have someone in your life you've meant to reconcile with or you want to tell someone how you feel about them, do it today. Life's too damn short to hold grudges and fear rejection. Say "I love you." If they say it back, what a wonderful feeling. If they don't, that's their business, you've done and said what's true for you. Smile for your courage. I used to believe I was too "cool", "macho" and "strong" to say how I felt. I’ve learned vulnerability is a wonderful gift.
“The greatest weakness of most humans is their hesitancy to tell others how much they love them while they’re alive” - Orlando A. Battista
People wonder how I've been able to put such a positive spin on something that could be so devastating? Well, I can assure you I have my moments when I am incredibly frustrated and scared but I know nothing else but to continue to move forward. I firmly believe you either win or you learn, and this is an opportunity to learn… and someday I’ll look back at it as a win. As Gary Bertier says in my favorite movie of all time Remember the Titans “Coach, I’m hurt (sick). I’m not dead”.
In the end, the money is secondary. I much prefer to hear you donated blood, joined the registry, told someone you loved them and did something epic with your life because this inspired you to go out and make it happen. That’s what it’s all about.
Thank you all for your love & support.
Collect Moments, Not Things.
Brendon & The Rearick Family
P.S. I will do my best to answer every message promptly. If I don’t, all I ask is you bear with me as I sort through my daily messages.
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