Rob Stafford is officially back!
Stafford, a big part of our family here at NBC 5, has been away, battling a serious illness, but will return to the anchor desk beginning Monday at 10 p.m.
"I am really, really lucky,” he said.
An unexpected diagnosis put Rob on a path he never planned for.
"I didn’t think I was sick," he said. "I didn’t think I would get sick. In retrospect there were all these signs."
He said he'll never forget what the doctors told him.
"Friday the 13th in January, Mayo Clinic," he remembers, "One of those moments where my doctor says, 'Your life will change from this day forward.' It felt like a movie script.”
“My diagnosis is amyloidosis," he said, "which is a blood disease that is not curable, but it is treatable. It is treated a lot like cancer is.”
Six weeks later, Rob shared with everyone on-air the challenge he faced. What no one knew then was just how long and how hard the journey back would be.
His first step was a stem cell transplant at Mayo Clinic.
"It doesn’t hurt to have the transplant," he said. "The tough part is the high-dose chemo. You get sick, and I lost a lot of weight. I had chemo-induced colitis. I could not keep anything down."
"It was rough and tough on my family. I did learn I could take a beating," he said.
Rob’s battle made his family and all of us want to be strong for him.
"The kindness of strangers has been what surprised me the most about this," he said. "I mean you expect it from your friends and your family. But people you don't know, thousands of them, have sent me messages, prayed for me, come up to me. That helps you.”
Filled with hope, he awaited test results. And finally, 100 days later, they appeared on his cell phone.
"I was looking at these blood results, and these blood results are not what I expected. These are not that good. It dropped just a little bit.”
Like a true warrior, Rob took on a new chemo treatment, this time closer to home, at Rush Medical Center.
"Basically there's a chemo cocktail of three different drugs that's been very effective, and compared the chemo I had for the transplant, this was much, much easier," he said. "I didn't get sick. I tolerated it very well. I could function, I could work out. My hair continued to grow back, and I felt good. I could eat again."
Weeks later, he had another blood visit and another doctor's appointment to remember.
"July 26th, our 31st wedding anniversary," he said. "Doctor walks into the office and said, 'I have some great news,' and my numbers dropped over 90 percent to within a few points of remission to the exact goal we had for the transplant."
His path now is to continue chemo and help others by sharing his story.
"Early detection can save your life, and you need to be active in the pursuit of your own health,” he said.
He’s also mindful of what he’s learned along the way.
"I already knew how much family meant to me," he said. "I really know now.”
While Rob is counting his blessings, he can’t wait to get back to work.
“Of course I’m going to go back to work," he said. "I mean, that's the way I wrote this story to be. Not walk off the field and oh, he's done. No, we’re going back.”