A Musician's Muse: Childhood Cancer

April 25, 2017

sean windle blog image
Sean Windle during treatment.

My Riley story began on Friday, October 13, 2000 (which also happened to be a full moon). After weeks of becoming gradually sicker and mono tests that kept coming back negative, my mom and dad took me to the Emergency Room at Riley Hospital for Children, where I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). I was classified as high-risk due to my age (I was just a week away from my 16th birthday). My life was instantly turned upside down as I was immediately taken into surgery for the placement of a portacath. After an X-ray revealed a tumor pressing down on my lungs, I was kept in a medically-induced coma while chemotherapy was used to shrink it.

I went through about six months of heavy chemotherapy one-to-several times a week before finally getting to the once-a-month “maintenance” phase of treatment. Unfortunately, almost one year to the day I was diagnosed, my worst fears were realized when I returned home from my Make-A-Wish Trip to Hawaii and found out I had relapsed. My treatment protocol was trashed and my only realistic hope for a cure was a bone marrow transplant. Thankfully, my sister was a perfect match, and preparations for the transplant could begin without significant delay. 

In late December of 2001, I was admitted to Riley again so that I could prepare for the transplant. The preparation was intense: full-body radiation, followed by radiation boosts to the cranium and testes, as well as high-dose chemotherapy for several weeks. Although the side effects were overwhelming and crippling at times, my transplant day (Feb. 6, 2002) was successful! Over the next year, the bone marrow formed an entirely new immune system while I slowly regained my strength and dealt with acute Graft-Versus-Host Disease. 

It took a long time to feel better, but I was eventually able to make a full recovery. It’s been just over 16 years since my transplant, and I’m 32, happily married and living a very active and healthy life! Without the doctors, nurses and other staff at Riley, I would not be here today! I owe them everything!

Sean Windle

Born and raised in Carmel, Ind., Sean Windle moved to Los Angeles in 2010 after graduating from Indiana University to pursue a career in the music industry. Windle began playing and composing classical music on the piano as a child. As a singer-songwriter and guitarist, Windle takes inspiration from many musical influences including Nirvana, Eddie Vedder, Smashing Pumpkins, Neil Young, Radiohead, Elliot Smith and Of Monsters and Men. Windle’s single biggest influence, though, remains his multiyear battle with leukemia as a teenager at Riley Hospital for Children. Cancer was the original muse that spurred Windle to begin writing songs, and it has driven him ever since. Along with his music career, Windle is a published journalist and research analyst covering a broad array of a broad array of U.S. industries, including durable goods, transportation, energy and construction.

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