In the summer of 2014 I received a phone call from an organization called Gift of Life.
Gift of Life is one of many non profit organizations that collects cheek swabs and uses that DNA to match donors with patients. The marrow and stem cell donations are then used to cure those with many types of blood cancers.
Several years prior I submitted a cheek swab sample at a drive and had forgotten all about it. Now, years later, the voice on the other end said I may be a potential match for stem cell donation, and possibly bone marrow donation down the road. She outlined the process of determining if I was a true match and what would happen if I was. Over the next few months there would be several blood tests, two trips to Detroit, a week of shots and the actual stem cell harvesting. All for an anonymous donation to a stranger.
After talking it over with my husband and weighing the effects on our family, I decided to go though the process of donation. Some parts were simple, like the blood draws. Other were more complex, like a trip to the hospital in Detroit for a complete physical. Once I was declared a full match, the harvest was scheduled and a home health nurse administered shots to boost my stem cell production. Then I returned to Detroit and my stem cells were harvested.
Was it easy? No. Did it hurt? Yes, a bit. But as I watched the people in the treatment room receiving their donated stem cells and undergoing other painful treatments, I realized that my minor pain and inconveniences were nothing compared to what they go through. And I would do it again in a heartbeat. Then, because the universe has a twisted sense of humor, my family went through our own cancer diagnoses. While my husband never needed a donation, I now have a firsthand appreciation of what cancer patients and their families go through.
I was reminded of all of this recently as I observed through social media the struggle of a local family whose 14-year-old daughter was suffering from acute myeloid leukemia. Tragically, she lost her battle this October. As I read her story, I found her bond with her donor was amazing and he has become a ferocious advocate for fundraising for a cure and to support St. Jude’s, where children and their families receive treatment and support with no financial burden. This inspired me to make sure I was on the donor list for that organization as well and to tell my story to encourage others to take time to become a potential donor.
As we enter what is thought of as the season of giving, please visit one of these sites below and take the time to register. You never know if you have the power to save someone’s life.