Just a few weeks ago, I was told that a very dear family friend was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. His wife told my mom that the doctor said, “I’m not going to sugar-coat this for you: this is nasty.” I fell onto my bed in absolute disbelief. This man and his dear family was just at my wedding less than a year ago. We’ve known them for over 10 years now. (That’s a long time for a military family, believe me.) My parents call them our “twin” family since we are all so similar in personalities. His oldest daughter just had a baby earlier this year — her first. His youngest daughter is still in high school. And he has leukemia? It cannot be happening.
I wanted to cry when I got the news, but all I could do was pray that God would heal him. Sure, the statistics for any kind of acute leukemia are never promising, but rather, grim. But I know that we believe and serve a God who is the ultimate Healer and Doctor and that He can rid him of this “nasty” sickness.
During the initial conversation with my mom, she said that the doctor had mentioned something about a bone marrow transplant after chemo. My naive-to-all-things-medical self didn’t know much, okay, anything about bone marrow transplants other than what I had seen on an early season of “Grey’s Anatomy.” (The extent of my medical knowledge; sad, I know.) In the episode, Izzy’s [surprise] daughter comes to the hospital with leukemia needing a bone marrow transplant and since she had no full siblings, evidently they were told a parent would be the next best donor. So, Izzy decides to donate her bone marrow to save her daughter’s life and it was, in a word, painful.
Even though that was the extent of my knowledge of bone marrow transplants, after thinking about it for a few hours, I told my husband that I would gladly donate to save our family friend if that’s what it came down to. I said that then, and I still say it now. How can I just sit here and say, “Well, good luck!” when I have plenty of bone marrow in my body?
On Tuesday, I got a text message right as I was parking my car at the gym. I glanced down and only saw the words, “will not survive” and I knew that whatever this message said was not going to be good. It was from the wife, saying that he has been moved to the “urgent” bone marrow transplant recipient list. Again, knowing nothing about how these transplants work, I asked her if she and the girls had swabbed to see if they were perhaps a match. She said they don’t swab people for specific people unless they are full siblings. Other than that, a wife or child has just as much chance to match as a total stranger. And he has no full siblings, only half.
My heart was racing so fast and I was in trance on the arc trainer, feeling the color drain from my face. I wanted to help so badly, but didn’t know how. A friend at the gym came over and said, “Are you okay? You look like you’re about to die.” I felt like I was going to die falling over off of the arc trainer. I tried to open up the site she sent me for more information about the donation process — bethematch.org — on my phone, but my eyes couldn’t focus and the site was limited. I raced home and immediately got on the computer to find out more information. All I knew was that I could not just sit back and let him die and I needed to at least try to do my part to help him.
It turns out that yes, you can get tested to see if you’re match for a specific person, but it will cost you. Anywhere from $195-$395 for a private test through “Kashi Laboratory.” I was willing to do it, to see if I was the match he needed. What’s a $195 to save someone’s life? It’s just money in the end. I knew that I had to talk to my husband first to see what he thought, because I couldn’t just start charging $195 when we don’t have that money to spend. He told me he’d support me in whatever I decided to do and that it was ultimately up to me. I figured I’d give myself a day to think about it, pray about it, and sleep on it and then decide. Time is not on our side here and I needed to make a decision quickly.
I didn’t want to join the national registry because that would mean I could be matched to a complete stranger. Sure, I’d gladly donate to someone I knew and loved, but a total stranger? That’s a little scary. So the private test seemed like the best option. All I want to do is donate to him if I can, that way I can save him, and I wouldn’t be put into a database of donors for the entire nation. I admitted from the beginning it sounded selfish, but, I felt like my feelings were valid.
But I just felt like God was telling me that I needed to stop thinking about myself and start thinking of others. This isn’t about me. Sometimes, it’s not all about what makes me happy, what makes me comfortable, and what will benefit me — it’s about someone else. I am perfectly healthy and able to donate and all that it takes is for me to be willing. That is all that it takes to save someone’s life, literally. All this time I had been praying so hard that a donor would come out of thin air and be a match for our friend, but really, what I was praying for was for someone else to step up to the plate because I certainly was not.
And that’s when I decided that if I expect others to step up and donate, then I absolutely need to be willing to donate myself. Even if it is for a total stranger that I could never meet, I need to do this to save them. There are thousands of other families just like our friends that are waiting, hoping, wishing that one donor would match to their loved one to save their life. It’s remarkable, really, because this type of transplant is so ‘easily’ done that it doesn’t take a dead person donating their organs to save another person. It takes an alive person to save an alive person and keep them alive! Praise God our medical advances have come this far that we know that this is all it takes. Most cancers cannot be solved by a simple transplant — we just have to wait and pray that the chemo will do its job and that our loved one will be healed. But this is different. It is more than hoping and praying, it is actually doing.
I pray that if I am not a match for our precious friend that I would be a match for someone else that is in his same situation. If my bone marrow can’t save his life, then maybe it can save someone else’s. What’s a few hours of pain from an incision on my end compared to saving someone from death? It is completely worth it.
become a bone marrow donor today! @ bethematch.org