Shelburne police officer battles leukemia and makes gains
By Josh Flore | Contributor
One year ago, on March 25, 2015, Mike Thomas was sitting in his doctor’s office waiting to find out the causes of a lingering medical condition. He was experiencing a constant dry cough, occasional bouts of fatigue, and his joints just seemed to flare and stiffen. That evening, his rheumatologist’s office called with news only the doc could tell Mike. He told him to get to his office immediately.
Mike thought that an after-hours visit to the rheumatologist only meant bad news. He pressed the doc to tell him what was going on. As police officers we never like going into a situation cold with no information. Mike was sick. Leukemia. His doc confirmed the diagnosis, told him to get some sleep but be at the hospital the next morning and “be prepared.” When Mike asked what he meant by “be prepared,” the doc explained that by the end of the day they would know what type of leukemia he had and should have a treatment plan started. The doc explained that Mike could be treated as an outpatient or might have to be admitted. Mike said he would pack a toothbrush. Through it all, Mike’s calm demeanor and sense of humor showed through.
The following morning, Mike came by the Shelburne Police Department to meet with the chief and the rest of the day-shift team. As he informed us all of the diagnosis, my heart sank and a wave of emotion swept over me. We all wished Mike well and the best of luck. We all know Mike is a fighter and he would not lose this battle. I watched Mike walk out the door to his car, feeling like a young child watching his father go to work.
At the hospital Mike was poked and prodded like a pincushion. After all of the tests were run, the doc gave him the news. Acute myeloid leukemia. It was bad. But they had a plan. The doc asked if he had any questions. Mike being Mike, after a few seconds of contemplation, stated, “Yeah, doc, I will take door number two.” Perplexed the doc looked at Mike and asked if he was OK. Mike told him he was and again stated, “I will take door number two.” A look of utter confusion came over the doc. He took a knee and said, “Mike, you understand that you have leukemia, right?”
Mike understood. He explained that behind door number one was the first diagnosis—sciatica. Behind door number two was the second diagnosis—pseudo-gout. Behind door number three was the third diagnosis—rheumatoid arthritis. Behind door number four—leukemia. Still perplexed the doc looked at Cheryl and asked if Mike was OK. Cheryl, with a grin, said “Yeah, Mike is just fine, he understands.”
So began the journey.
Mike checked into the University of Vermont Medical Center. After getting settled, one of the amazing oncology nurses told Mike he needed to set some goals—to have something to look forward to, to work toward. The only goal set by the nurse was to take a walk on the floor of the unit. After the nurse left, Mike’s daughter, Mijken, arrived. She took one look at the goals board and asked, “What the hell is that?” Mike told her. Mijken chuckle and made the necessary changes. With the support of his family and friends, Mike had his marching orders. He was prepared to take on leukemia and beat it.
After 28 days in the hospital, he and Cheryl were finally ready to leave. Plans for a trip to Boston were on the horizon for the next step in treatment. This was also when Mike finally found out just how bad his leukemia had been. A doc came into his room and told him his cancer blast was at 24 percent. Mike and Cheryl had no idea what it meant and reacted with, “Yeah, and…”
The doc explained what the cancer blast was and made it seem like the number was still incredibly high. Mike asked, “Well, what was it when I came into the hospital?” The doc seemed surprised and told Mike his original cancer blast was 80 percent. Mike was ecstatic, and once again another doc was dumbfounded by his glee.
“Well if it was at 80 percent and 28 days later it is at 24 percent, then let’s get the next treatment started. Let’s do this,” he said.
I can only imagine the doc got up and walked out wondering just what kind of nut case she was dealing with. Well, she was dealing with Mr. Michael Thomas, who was and is bound and determined to beat leukemia.
It was not until recently Mike told me if the leukemia had not been diagnosed when it was, he would have died within a very short time.
Mike is doing well. He is over 200 days post-transplant. He is a proud husband, parent and grandfather. Mike’s family has been amazing though this ordeal and always seems to find the positive aspect in everything. Without a doubt, Mike’s family has been a huge part and reason for his recovery.
There is a saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” From speaking with Mike and getting his blessing to write this piece, I can say, “It takes a village to fight for your life.” Mike has taken this to a completely new level. He has a hard time putting his feelings into words—not because those words are mushy or corny, not because those words would never be enough, but because the gratitude and thanks are beyond anything Mike could imagine. Sometimes words just do not seem to say what you truly feel.
For me the most gratifying day will be the day I see Mike walking back through the Police Department doors to report for duty. When that day occurs, it will be like watching my father return home from work, safe and sound.