The Puget Sound Blood Center (PSBC) in association with the National Marrow Donor Program will be holding a Bone Marrow Registry Drive in our Beer Garden this Friday during our weekly Fish Fry. The purpose is to provide community awareness and public education on the steps to become a donor and SAVE A LIFE!
Please come down and register as a donor, and learn just how safe and easy marrow donation is. PSBC will be there to assist with the simple questionnaire and mouth swab collection. The first 100 registers will receive a “I Joined to Save Someones Life” T-shirt commemorating your willingness to help save a life. You can enjoy live music from “Said the Whale” (2011 Canadian Juno Award recipient for Best New Band) too!
A group of loved ones decided to host this event because of a very good friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer 2-1/2 years ago. She fought a hard battle, beat it, and then on the 2nd anniversary of her breast cancer diagnosis she was told she had acute myeloid leukemia. This was devastating news for her family and all of us who know and love her. She is one of the lucky ones because she found a match within her immediate family. Statistics say the chance of finding a match within your family is only 25%. She has a long way to go, but is a great fighter and has more strength and courage than anyone we know! Mo, you are loved by many…
Things moved very quickly at this point. Biopsies, test results, several appointments with several different doctors… she’d finally started seeing the horizon through the trees and now she was being thrown right back into the thick of the woods. The fear was that the breast cancer had metastasized to the bone, which would be stage 4 and could be considered terminal. The other explanation was that it might be due to a new cancer: leukemia. This would be considered “good news” because there would be hope for a cure. When you’re praying your mom has leukemia, you realize how subjective the idea of “hope” is to the scenario in which you are applying it. I’ll never forget the phone call I received when my mom told me it was leukemia and not stage 4 breast cancer. I hung up the phone and sobbed in my car for two reasons: (a) because it was the best news we could have gotten, and (b) because leukemia should never be the best news.
Here is a letter from her son….
“February 2011 was a new start for my mom. Although she was still being closely monitored by her physicians, she had finished her breast cancer radiation treatment the year before, and it seemed like she was out of the woods. After her first haircut in two years, she was on her way to Palm Springs for a long-overdue vacation. Needless to say, she had a lot of sunshine to catch up on. I was going to drive from my home in LA to meet her there, and I couldn’t wait to see her healthy again.
In the airport is when she got the phone call.
In a frozen yogurt shop is when I got the phone call.
“Hi, Mac. I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be coming to the desert after all,” she told me. She stayed strong as she insisted there was nothing to worry about, the doctors were just slightly concerned with a drop in her white blood count and that they needed to do some tests.
My mom would tell you that breast cancer is horrible, but that Leukemia is a whole different beast. The cancer is in the bone marrow, which is responsible for white blood cell production, so the patient’s immune system must be completely depleted before a bone marrow transplant can even be considered. And without an immune system, any small infection, any average germ is considered a serious threat. My mom spent weeks in the hospital, at times delirious with fevers. At one point she couldn’t eat or drink for days because the medicine was causing open sores in her mouth that, without white blood cells, would not heal themselves.
Even though my mom always expressed a positive outlook to me whenever I talked to her, a hushed sense of anxiety racked my family: what if we didn’t find a marrow match? Although she has three siblings, that’s hardly a cause for celebration when the percentages are stacked so mercilessly against patients looking for a match. The thought of her going through all this rigorous and unapologetically exhausting cancer treatment for the second time and at the end of it not being able to find a bone marrow match was devastating.
Another day, another phone call. I wish I could have been by my mom’s side when she got the news that her sister was a match. The term “good news” is an understatement. This was incredible news. This was shout-it-from-the-rooftops news. Not only would my mom’s treatment process not be stalled to continue the search for a match, but also the fear of not ever finding a donor was instantly eradicated. This was the turning point in her battle with cancer. This was the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a feeling of hope that every patient battling leukemia should get to experience.
Unfortunately, many of them don’t get to. My mom was extremely lucky to find a match amongst her siblings, but let’s not take for granted all the patients that don’t have sibling matches, or who don’t even have siblings to lean on. Searching the registry is their only hope, and every day spent waiting for a positive match is one more opportunity for the cancer to resurface with a vengeance. It’s a waiting game that no person should ever have to play.
As I write this, my mom is on day 58 of her 100 post-transplant days before she’s allowed to return home. Disregarding a few hiccups here and there, she’s doing exceedingly well, and will hopefully be able to finish treatment at her scheduled time. And I’m betting that, if things go according to plan, she’ll be on that plane headed for Palm Springs before she knows it. Because if anyone deserves some time in the sunshine, it’s her. I love you, Mom, and I can’t wait to finally be out of the woods with you. Once and for all.”