WINTHROP – Town Councilor Rich Boyajian knows first hand that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and his journey with cancer has done just that.
It’s been 19 years since Boyajian got the news that changed his life. He was 28 years old at the time, approaching his first wedding anniversary with his wife Pauline and something wasn’t quiet right. He was tired, sluggish and ignored his symptoms at the time. Finally he made a doctor’s appointment. He was all set to go, but working as a visiting nurse he had a patient to see beforehand. Unfortunately, his patient suffered a heart attack and Boyajian stayed with him, missing his appointment. He found his tiredness getting worse.
“I would literally go to work and come home and sleep,” he said. Finally, he made another appointment and had a few blood tests. “My white (blood cell) count was so high. I knew I had leukemia. Then I got a telephone call and was told to go to the emergency room immediately. I was in danger of having a stroke.”
He cancelled his work for the day and as he was headed to the emergency room at Brigham and Women’s. His wife called as he headed for Boston. Boyajian told her he had leukemia and she thought he was joking. But it was no joke.
What would save him was a bone marrow transplant. Finding a donor was another story. Boyajian started chemotherapy and radiation. He was told that one in four people die as a result of bone marrow transplants. Boyajian’s ethnic heritage mixed Armenian with Irish and made the search a little difficult. His brother was tested, but no match. Then the search focused on the national registry. It wasn’t long until a Southern Baptist man from Texas became the perfect match.
“His name is James Bacon and he is a Texas Highway patrolman,” Boyajian said. The two were eventually able to meet. “Everything transpired because he donated blood.”
Boyajian said having leukemia was tough, it wasn’t in his plans. Making things worse was Boyajian’s wife suffering a miscarriage a month before his bone marrow transplant and then her brother dying suddenly of a seizure.
“She is a strongest person I’ve ever met. It was a lot to wrap my head around,” Boyajian said. He then sought the help of a social worker and a psychiatrist. He was out of work for over a year because of his suppressed immune system. Before his treatments began the couple began plans for invitro-fertilization to hopefully have children in the future.
Today the Boyajians have two daughters, Krystal, 16, and Shealagh, 14. Pauline Boyajian works in special education at Winthrop High School and Rich Boyajian is a nurse practitioner at Dana Farber.
“I saw the value in the oncology nurses and the amount of respect the doctors give them so I went back to school at Umass Graduate School of Nursing in Worcester., Boyajian said, adding that he received a scholarship from the American Cancer Society. He also received help from one of his former visiting nurse association patients.
Now Boyijian has dedicated himself to helping others. This past weekend he and other hockey players from Dana Farber took on the Bost
on Bruin alumni in Somerville to raise funds for the Jimmy Fund. He hopes to be able to raise over $20,000.
To make your cancer-fighting gift over the phone using your credit card, please call the Jimmy Fund toll-free at 800-52-JIMMY (1-800-525-4669)