Cosmo Lanier moved to Louisville a decade ago far from family and the doctors who had treated his serious diagnosis.
“When I was first here, I was sick all the time, in the hospital all the time,” he said. Cosmo’s trips to the hospital every few weeks were “getting rough.”
Cosmo quickly found a family at UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center that changed his treatment and his life. They know his name. They ask about his loved ones. They have copies of the two books he’s written.
Cosmo, 33, was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia at birth, but even from an early age he vowed to remain upbeat and determined to “do everything I want to do in life,” even after losing friends to sickle cell and his mother to ovarian cancer when he was 14.
Sickle cell anemia is a condition in which there aren't enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen throughout your body.
Normally, your red blood cells are flexible and round, moving easily through your blood vessels. In sickle cell anemia, the red blood cells become rigid and sticky and are shaped like sickles or crescent moons. These irregularly shaped cells can get stuck in small blood vessels, which can slow or block blood flow and oxygen to parts of the body. They can also break apart and die easily, leaving a shortage of red blood cells and not enough oxygen circulating the body.
There's no cure for most people with sickle cell anemia. But treatments can relieve pain and help prevent problems associated with the disease.
While sickle cell anemia is not a form of cancer, it carries similar risks to those with lower blood counts, such as those receiving chemotherapy. The treatments Cosmo faces are also similar to those with blood cancers. Monthly, Cosmo exchanges his blood through a port to keep his blood count regulated.
“Sickle cell is very serious,” Cosmo said and knows he faces a shorter life expectancy.
“I don’t dwell on it,” he said.
Cosmo doesn’t want sickle cell to slow him down. He traveled to Australia for his brother’s wedding recently. He traveled to Germany when his other brother married.
“I do most things,” he said. While he travels and has written books, he wants to go to Hawaii, Belize and Fiji.
“I pretty much do anything else that I want to do. If I want to travel, I travel. I try to just do it,” Cosmo said. “That is my main focus in life is to act normal. I think it helps you mentally live longer.”
He was born in Jamaica and spent many of his early years in New Jersey before moving to Louisville in 2011.
Cosmo’s Louisville family now includes Dr. Beth Riley and her team at UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center. His life and his sickle cell treatments would never be the same.
“Pretty much everything she tweaked, and I noticed a big difference,” he said. “… She was very sweet, very understanding. She made me feel like she had my best interests at heart.”
Despite his initial hesitancy to the change in treatment, Cosmo attributes the monthly blood exchanges through his port for stabilizing his health.
Cosmo has a routine for his monthly treatment. He works Monday, sees the doctor and has tests on Tuesday, works on Wednesday, and has the blood exchange on Thursdays. He said he receives eight to 10 bags of blood during each treatment, which takes about five hours.
“I’m usually knocked out” for about five days after the exchange, he said. “It wipes you out.”
But on Monday he tries to get his legs moving and is back at work on Tuesday.
“They treat me great. Everybody knows me. Everybody is very nice, very happy. They usually try to get me in and out. They don’t mess around,” Cosmo said.
Before the change in treatment, he ended up in the hospital four or five times a year.
"How we treat it changed drastically,” he said.
Now, Cosmo said his quality of life is “1,000 times” better.
Cosmo knows much of the staff by their first names, trusts their work and would recommend the care to other patients.
He wrote his first book about his life with sickle cell, “Cosmo and the Monster Within.” He wrote his second book, the space adventure “The Flying Boy of Zinnybooboo,” with his daughter Brooklyn.
The hospital staff has purchased his books and has him sign them. They ask when there will be another book.
His family is spread out with brothers in Germany and Australia. He has a fiance and a daughter here.
Cosmo said the family environment at the hospital is important to him since he does not have family in Louisville. He said his family is “very far” and they feel comfortable with his care here.
“I feel very loved. I’m always happy when I go there. I don’t ever feel down or that I can’t handle the issue,” he said.
Cosmo is proud Riley is his doctor. When she was on a billboard downtown, he took pictures and “showed everybody.”
“I’m confident in her. You have to be. That’s why it’s good that I have that family aspect,” he said. “... I am confident in who is handling my care and I’m confident in her.”