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Mandi Schwartz has setback in cancer recovery

by Mike G. Morreale /
In what will certainly be one of the saddest stories leading into the holiday weekend, the news regarding Mandi Schwartz turned from good to bad in a matter of 48 hours last week.

Just two days after her brother, St. Louis Blues prospect Jaden Schwartz, received word he would accompany the Canadian National Junior Team to the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y., Mandi was informed her cancer had returned.

"It's like we've just hit a brick wall at 100 miles-an-hour," the Schwartz family said in a letter last Friday.

With the news, Mandi was given additional chemotherapy in an effort to get the cancer back into remission. She started the treatment under the supervision of doctors at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and is scheduled to return home at the end of this month to continue the treatment at the Allan Blair Cancer Centre in Pasqua Hospital in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Back in mid-October, some four weeks after undergoing a 32-minute stem-cell transplant at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance's inpatient transplant unit at the University of Washington Medical Center, tests indicated that the birth of a new immune system was under way. The results of the recent biopsy, however, indicated a relapse for a third time this year.

The latest biopsy was performed on Dec. 13 and results relayed to the family on Dec. 17. The entire Schwartz family, her mother Carol, father Rick, brothers Jaden and Rylan and fiancé Kaylem Prefontaine, have been spending time with her in Seattle.

"The results of the biopsy caught us off-guard, because we had hoped to be done with this part of the battle," Carol Schwartz said. "Mandi remains committed to fighting this disease, and we are going to continue doing everything in our power to help her. We are so grateful for all the support we have received throughout this ordeal. We know how many families have been affected by cancer, and we know that the efforts to raise awareness of this cause that have been made on Mandi's behalf are making a difference for her and for so many other patients in need. That gives us the strength to keep going."

After being informed he had earned a roster spot on this year's Canadian National Junior Team on Dec. 15, Jaden Schwartz told Canadian reporters he was going to call his older sister to relay the good news.

Jaden, was drafted with the 14th pick by the St. Louis Blues on June 25 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. In 17 games with Colorado College this fall, the 5-foot-10, 184-pound forward has produced 11 goals, 26 points and 20 penalty minutes. The World Junior Championship begins Sunday and concludes Jan. 5.

It's been more than two years since Mandi, a center on the Yale women's ice hockey team, was first diagnosed with cancer (acute myeloid leukemia) while in the first semester of her junior year at Yale. She and the family have been living in Seattle -- 1,000 miles from their home in Wilcox, Saskatchewan -- for the last five months as she has undergone treatment at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

According to Sam Rubin at Yale Sports Publicity, Mandi is now being treated with Azacitidine, also known as Vidaza, as part of a research program to study that drug's effectiveness against acute myeloid leukemia.

The drug has been used primarily as treatment for another type of blood disorder, myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). The goal is to eliminate the cancerous cells and to help Mandi's bone marrow grow normal blood cells. Doctors also began tapering the postgrafting immunosuppression to take the "brakes off" the donor immune cells and eventually allow for graft-versus-tumor effects to deal with any residual leukemic cells.

In addition to chemotherapy, Mandi must also continue to await the development of her new immune system, which takes approximately a year. She will be monitored regularly through blood tests to confirm that new blood cells are being produced.

The Sept. 22 transplant utilized stem cells from two umbilical cord blood units donated anonymously to public cord blood banks.

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