Five years ago, I joined the bone marrow donor registry through Be The Match. This March I was shocked to discover that my own bone marrow had failed me as I was quickly diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia or AML. An aggressive form of leukemia for which a bone marrow transplant is often a part of treatment and hopefully a cure.
As much as I was ready to come to the aid of someone else in need, I never imagined myself on the flip side of the equation as a potential recipient rather than a donor. Who does?
Right now, a bone marrow transplant is neither a clear part of my future nor off the table. Regardless, the concept has become a part of my everyday life. I write this from the bone marrow transplant floor of UCSD La Jolla. Being the naturally chatty human that I am, I have found several new friends here who are undergoing transplants or waiting, hoping to find a match. The waiting is the worst.
Hundreds of friends, relatives and colleagues have repeatedly asked what can they do? How can they help Craig and I? What can they send? I have been overwhelmed by the love and generosity we have felt. Yet by and large I haven’t had an answer.
Our children are loved and well cared for.
Our fridge and freezer are packed.
Our hearts are full.
After weeks and weeks in the hospital and more time to think than anyone in my situation wants, I keep coming back to this one thing.
So here is my ask for those of you who are interested. Here is what you can do.
You can take my place.
Yes. The best possible gift you can give me and my family is to take my place in the Be The Match Registry.
A bone marrow transplant can be a life-saving treatment for more than 70 diseases including leukemia (like me) lymphoma and sickle cell like Kami. Seventy percent of patients don’t have a fully matched donor in their family. They depend on Be The Match to find a donor.
All it takes to join the registry is a simple cheek swab. Something so un-scary that Kayla and Blake were fighting over who got to hold these giant cotton swabs.
In the interest of being a fair parent, I present you with both. Amazing how angelic they can look just ten seconds later, right?
Donating actual bone marrow is a lot less painful than you might think. Most people donate through a Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) donation where a machine draws blood from one arm, extracts the cells it needs, and returns the remaining blood back to your body through your other arm. You’re fully awake and can binge watch a show or dive down the rabbit hole that is Facebook.
For some people, the doctor will need to extract marrow directly from the back of your pelvic bone with a needle. Having been through this procedure myself three times already, I can tell you personally that it’s not a big deal. I had a local anesthetic and felt a little sore in the area until the next day, but was up and walking around within hours. A small price to pay for the chance to save a life, send a mother back to her child or give a child a future.
I am a mixed ethnicity donor. Or I guess I was, until now. Like many places in life, there is a desperate need for minority and mixed ethnicity representation in the registry. As hard as it is to find a match in general, it’s significantly more difficult to find a fully matched donor for a person of mixed ethnicity. There is a huge need for younger adult donors are well. Millennials, like many of you. The younger a person is, the healthier their bone marrow tends to be.
The last few months of my life have been terrifying and exhausting. I have cried tears of fear for my children and husband. I have cried tears of gratitude for the amazing people in my life without whom I would be lost.
But wouldn’t it be great if this not so awesome thing that happened to me was the catalyst for more diversity in this registry? I can’t think of a better way for my very diverse group of friends and family to help make a difference that goes far beyond simply helping me and my own family.
Because I am one person. And I am so darn lucky to have the tribe that I have supporting me. But for every person like me, I imagine there are hundreds if not thousands who can only dream of having this support system. Maybe we can give them that? Maybe in their deepest moment of need one of YOU will be the match that saves their life.
Never in my life have I wanted you to click a link and take an action so much. You can click here to join the Be The Match Registry. You’ll be giving people like me and like Kami a second chance at life.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.