Lifestyle

Before cancer, life was perfect for Oak Harbor family

April Stach has kept her sons, Riley, left, and Andrew, busy with activities while the family has coped with their dad’s health issues. Joe Stach received a bone marrow stem cell transplant May 23 as he’s trying to recover from two bouts with cancer the past five years. A donor provided him a match. - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
April Stach has kept her sons, Riley, left, and Andrew, busy with activities while the family has coped with their dad’s health issues. Joe Stach received a bone marrow stem cell transplant May 23 as he’s trying to recover from two bouts with cancer the past five years. A donor provided him a match.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

By many accounts, life as a Navy spouse can be full of challenges, particularly when raising young children.

April Stach figures she was lucky. Her husband’s job didn’t involve as many lengthy deployments as before. He would come home from work around 4:30 in the afternoon, and soon they’d be off to soccer practice as a family.

Joe Stach liked to coach.

This was the routine for the Stachs five years ago while living in Portland, Texas.

“I feel like life was perfect before cancer,” April said.

APRIL STACH will be the closing speaker at the Relay for Life of Whidbey Island, which is Friday, May 30, through Saturday, May 31, at North Whidbey Middle School in Oak Harbor

Her message will be of courage, strength, faith and hope relating to her husband’s five-year ordeal battling two different types of cancer.

It will also be of gratitude and will call out to others

FOR THE first time, the Relay for Life in Oak Harbor is featuring a bone marrow donor drive.

Participants get tested by a cheek swab and donating involves giving blood so stem cells can be taken.

Joe Stach, 43, was a recipient of a bone marrow donation and underwent a stem cell transplant May 23.

Being caucasian gave him a 60 percent chance to find a match, whereas people of color only have a 13 percent chance of success because of the low numbers of people who get tested, said Leandra Reuble, director of the Relay for Life of Whidbey Island.

Oncologists at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance hope the transplant will take and rid Stach of his latest round of cancer.

Stach will recover in an apartment at the Pete Gross House in Seattle for three months before he’s able to rejoin his family in Oak Harbor.

APRIL STACH calls the stay a medical deployment, the second lengthy one the family has endured.

She calls her husband and their two sons, Riley, 11, and Andrew, 6, all troopers.

“He has a very positive outlook. It’s mind over matter,” April Stach said. “He smiles and laughs and he’s happy. He’s very patient.”

Cancer blindsided the family five years ago when Joe was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cancer known as Burkitt’s lymphoma.

“He was Stage IV,” April said. “They gave him seven days to live. They started treatment fast.”

Joe Stach was treated with chemotherapy during a six-month, inpatient stay at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

MEDICALLY RETIRED from the Navy, Joe Stach and his family moved to Oak Harbor where they could be near relatives.

Life returned to normal, including soccer, baseball and Boy Scouts, and the family celebrated the five-year milestone of Joe being cancer-free last August.

But a month later, pain in his legs and difficulty walking led to a doctor appointment, then a visit with his oncologist.

A bone marrow aspiration was ordered for doctors to examine the fluid.

The test showed that Joe had a new cancer known as refractory anemia with excess blasts, a type of myelodysplastic syndrome.

His bone marrow was badly damaged, which can be a side effect of prolonged chemotherapy.

“THE FIVE-YEAR mark for someone with cancer is supposed to be like ‘hallelujah,’” April said, “then ‘boom.”

Treatment called for another hospital stay and more chemotherapy, leading up to a stem cell transplant.

“He started having chest pain,” April said. “He started having heart, kidney and liver failure.”

His condition improved over the winter and a bone marrow donor from a national database was identified. The donor gave stem cells by giving blood over a five-day period.

“We have no idea who it is,” April said.

ALL APRIL can do now is pray and hope for the transplant to be a success.

Over the next three months, doctors will be looking for engraftment, when new cells start to grow and produce healthy blood stem cells.

“I believe in the power of prayer,” April said. “We have a strong faith.”

In the meantime, April keeps her sons busy with activities from athletics to Scouts. Her relatives have helped immensely.

Everyone wants to see the fun-loving guy with the Washington State University Cougars shirt back in Oak Harbor.

Joe Stach graduated from WSU with two degrees, including one in education, and taught middle school math and science in Vancouver, Wash., before switching to the Navy.

“He’s always happy,” April said.

“Everybody loves his positive attitude. He’s always playing Legos with the kids.”

 

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