A short but attention-grabbing headline at the top of Calvin Stancil’s LinkedIn profile reads, “I’m graduating from nursing school, didn’t see that coming.”
That’s not Stancil pushing a low opinion of himself on others. If anything, he genuinely believes he’s more equipped than ever to stare down anything life throws his way. But even he admits getting here meant holding on for dear life.
In 2016, Stancil, who was born with sickle cell anemia and spent his life in and out of hospitals, was dying from Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Doctors found a mass above his right knee after he broke his leg in a freak accident while trying to catch a loose dog.
After a year of constant pain and failed chemotherapy, the 38-year-old husband and father was given six to eight months to live.
“I remember waiting for the doctor to leave the room, and I just broke down crying,” Stancil said. “I knew cancer was terrible, but I had it in my head up to that point that we would beat this. Once chemo didn’t work, I didn’t know what to do.
“Life was like a wild rollercoaster, and I was focused on finding a way to hold on no matter what.”
To say he did would be an understatement. Thanks to a cousin being a near-perfect stem-cell match, Stancil received a life-saving transplant in 2017 that replaced his unhealthy blood-forming cells with healthy ones. He spent four months at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland — with his father, Ray, as his caretaker — and he’s happy to report that his cancer is in remission.
His sickle cell anemia was also cured with the same procedure.
Though Calvin’s journey to true healing continued to have its ups and downs, he completed his nursing prerequisites and was accepted to TWU in Denton. He graduated on December 17 and has since accepted a nursing residency position with Texas Oncology. Stancil and his family see his latest opportunity as a new lease on life and a chance to change the lives of others. Furthermore, they truly thank God for this miracle and ongoing guidance.
“I’m an infusion therapist, and I get to help people trying to live their life the best they can,” Stancil said. “That’s exciting to me — helping people who are going through a journey of their own. I am in a really happy and stable place right now.”
That’s a breath of fresh air for Stancil. His parents, Ray and Laverne, learned that their son had sickle cell anemia shortly after he was born. Sickle cell anemia is a form of sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder that causes red blood cells to become misshapen (sickle or crescent-shaped instead of round) and break down. Approximately 70,000 to 100,000 Americans have sickle cell disease, and the complications that arise can include pain and infections, organ damage, strokes, fatigue, disabilities, and premature death.
Stancil inherited the gene from his parents. Over the years, he faced an unending list of lung issues and dangerous colds that quickly progressed to debilitating pneumonia. As he got older, he also underwent blood transfusions. In 2012, he was forced to have his right hip replaced because of an infection called avascular necrosis.
“Calvin was always a very strong kid; he just worked his way through it all — and if you weren’t told he had the disease, you never would have known,” Ray Stancil said of his son. “He still did all the usual stuff like baseball and soccer, but you always had to be careful with him. Every three months or so, he’d have some sort of crisis that we’d have to work through.”
As Calvin says, things changed for the worst in 2016.
“My dad had thrown a Super Bowl party, and the dog got out,” he said. “Like any other normal person, I chased after him. But as I was running down the driveway, I tripped over the leash. I broke my tibia and fibula. I was in a mobilizer for three weeks and had to use crutches. But it just hurt so much all those weeks later — which really struck me because I typically have a high tolerance for pain because of my sickle cell anemia. I remember thinking, ‘This shouldn’t hurt this much.’ An MRI confirmed a mass above my knee, and I was referred to an orthopedic oncologist.”
Stancil had an aggressive form of cancer that resisted two separate rounds of chemotherapy. All hope appeared lost.
“We were always trying to cure my sickle cell anemia. But at the time, there wasn’t a cure except for stem-cell transplants, and it wasn’t like they were just handing those types of procedures out to anyone,” Stancil said. “They were very difficult to obtain, and insurance didn’t cover it. But insurance would pay for cancer. My cousin turned out to be a match, and they did the procedure with the intention of curing the cancer. As they cured that, my sickle cell was also cured.”
Calvin and his wife, Jennifer, have been married for 11 years. Together, they have a 9-year-old son named Jayden.
Taking advantage of the opportunity meant leaving them to travel with his dad to Baltimore for treatment. He’d have to undergo intense bouts of full-body radiation that completely eradicated his immune system.
“With every meeting and every conversation we had with the doctors, I took notes and sent them to Jennifer and Laverne. So they didn’t have to be with us to know exactly what was going on,” Ray Stancil said. “At the same time as Calvin is going through all of this intense chemotherapy and radiation, I’m learning what it’s like to be a caregiver. And it wasn’t an easy job. I think he appreciated me being there, and we came out of it a better son and father.”
Calvin agreed, adding that getting his nursing degree after all of that is a dream come true. He always had visions of going down that career path, but his health always seemed to get in the way and slow the process down.
“It feels good to know you have people around you that you can trust,” he said. “My dad was meticulous about everything when it came to my care, and I could always count on that. My wife was amazing and was a pivotal piece — she worked two jobs while I was out there in Baltimore, and she and my mom came to visit when they could. The entire experience was also hard on our son Jayden. I remember his daycare teacher saying that he would just stare out the window. When she asked what was wrong, he’d say, ‘I wish I could see my daddy.’ From that point on, we made sure to FaceTime before school and before bedtime, and my dad and I believe it was the addition of Jayden’s prayers that got me cured. I had a lot of people praying for me.”
He added, “Along life’s journey, I’ve talked to God, and I’ve not talked to God. I found out that life was more manageable when I just listened instead. I’ll always have my struggles and difficulties, but I’m focused on my family and getting through life like everyone else. I enjoy that I get to help people now, and I really do believe the sky is the limit.”