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UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

Valeriy Sukach — Good medicine and strong faith to overcome rare blood cancer

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Valeriy Sukach

Valeriy Sukach is 52 years young with a head full of thick black hair, rosy cheeks and a childlike smile that says “all is right with the world.”

And for Sukach, a West Sacramento resident now in remission from stage IV mantle cell lymphoma, life could get better if only he could resume his work as a gardener. But that time will come soon enough.

Already, the immigrant from Uzbekistan has beaten the odds against the rare blood cancer that is almost universally fatal with the help of good medicine, combined with a strong faith and the prayers from within his tight-knit community.

Sukach was diagnosed in 2008 with mantle cell lymphoma after an eye surgeon removed a growth near his eye, which turned out to be malignant. The disease had progressed to other lymph nodes, as well, and he was admitted to UC Davis Medical Center for tumor-removal surgeries and then to the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center for chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

The cancer disappeared, at least for awhile, and life returned to normal for Sukach and his family. Unfortunately, as is fairly common with this type of lymphoma, the disease returned in 2010, and his doctors decided it was time to find a suitable donor of hematopoietic stem cells.

“If I was in my country, maybe I would have died a long time ago from cancer,” he said. “I appreciate everybody who takes care of me at UC Davis. It’s a big blessing for me.”
— Valeriy Sukach

“After that, I say, I am ready for everything,” he recalled of his decision to undergo the most aggressive treatment. “I am not scared. I am Christian, and I believe in God. And, a lot of people pray for me in my church.”

Replacing his own hematopoietic stem cells, which are made in the bone marrow and responsible for producing all the components of the blood and much of the immune system, gave him the best chance for a cure. A worldwide search was initiated to find a “suitable” donor who had a compatible immune system.  Fortunately, an excellent match was found in a 55-year-old Austrian man. In preparation for the procedure Sukach underwent high-dose chemotherapy to destroy his own stem cell production. In a procedure in September 2011 by Joseph Tuscano, a medical oncologist and member of the stem cell transplant team, the donor stem cells were transplanted into Sukach, restoring his own blood-cell production system.

Valeriy Sukach (right) with Richard Banagale

Although he is still unable to work because of flagging energy and concerns that cuts or bruises from the job could lead to dangerous infections, his doctors and nurses have assured him that the time will come. In the meantime, he said he tends to his own small garden in his yard and enjoys time with his extended family, all of whom live close by.

And he has become a sort of guide for others within his immigrant community for whom a diagnosis of cancer seems too frightening or costly to confront. He explains to them that he is grateful for his excellent medical care and assures them that they have no reason to be scared. He reminds them of how lucky he is to be alive.

“If I was in my country, maybe I would have died a long time ago from cancer,” he said. “I appreciate everybody who takes care of me at UC Davis. It’s a big blessing for me.”

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