My bone marrow donation journey
There are many types of cancer, and it affects so many people. Most of us know someone who has battled the disease. The unfortunate among us have experienced the helplessness that comes with watching a close family member become afflicted, or have even been personally diagnosed.
A cancer diagnosis is frightening to say the least. Every year, after my complete physical exam, I breathe a little sigh of relief when I get a clean bill of health from my physician. I have another reason to feel thankful for this good news each year; my Dad died of cancer many years ago. I remember how courageously he fought, and I remember that helpless feeling -- unable to do anything to stop it.
However, now we sometimes CAN stop it. A bone marrow transplant can give a cancer patient new hope. I learned this in 2009, when I happened to see a short TV segment about marrow transplants -- it was a short PSA on behalf of the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry. This registry is always on the lookout for potential donors. After the TV segment, I decided to register myself.
Registration was very simple. I submitted my name & address, and I received a kit in the mail. The kit contained several swabs, with instructions on how to use them to obtain a saliva sample from my cheek (just like detectives do on several TV dramas). After returning the kit in the mail I heard from them only periodically, when they would ask me to check and update my contact information.
Then, in 2013, I received a phone call. The sample I submitted had been identified as a possible match for a patient who needed bone marrow. Out of several million potential donors, I was perhaps this person's best hope for a cure. So, I reported to a local clinic for a quick blood test. A few weeks later, I received another phone call -- based on the blood test, I was identified as the best available donor.
Over the next several months, I learned a great deal. I learned the patient's age, gender, and disease. I learned that registering does not constitute an obligation to donate -- in fact, only about one of 30 people who register ever get that phone call. I learned that my pre-conceptions about marrow donation were not entirely accurate. Most of all, I discovered that the decades of helplessness I've felt about my father were eased by knowing I was helping someone else. Perhaps I could even help cure her.
In early 2014, I was flown (all expenses paid) to Washington D.C., where I underwent the procedure. I had recently celebrated a birthday, the same birthday that was my Dad's last. I flew home the next day.
I do not know the person who received my marrow, and she does not know me. Anonymity is an important part of the process -- I may never know her, and I may never know whether she achieved remission or a cure. At this point, I only know that she improved enough after four weeks to be sent home from the hospital, which is very happy news!
If you would like to consider registering please click here to read all about the registry and the process, and to read about the great need for potential donors. And, if you would like to learn more about my experience, please feel free to call.