If You Had the Chance to Save a Life, Would You?
There are a couple of dates in my life that I won't ever forget. March 8, 2017, is one of them. This is the date that I received a phone call from the National Marrow Donor Program telling me that my bone marrow is a match for a young woman who is facing the fight of her life against leukemia.
When I signed up for the National Marrow Donor Program, I never thought that I would actually get a call that I was someone's match. According to Be The Match, "About 1 in 430 U.S. Be The Match Registry® go on to donate bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) to a patient."
While I'm a match for a young woman, it's still not set in stone that I'll be able to donate to her. I still need to have more blood work, but either way, to get this far is simply incredible. Any prayers or uplifting thoughts you could send to the young woman fighting for her life, and for me- that, I'm able to give her the gift of life, would be so appreciated. Once my blood work has been tested, I should know within two weeks to 60 days if I'll be able to help.
In the fall of 2011, my dad was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer called Myelofibrosis. With Myelofibrosis, a person's bone marrow is replaced by scar tissue. This means that my dad’s bone marrow was dry. Blood cells are produced in bone marrow, and when the marrow is dry, cells don't produce. Every human needs blood cells to survive, therefore, every human needs bone marrow.
My dad was one of the lucky ones. Most people wait years for a bone marrow donor and some never find the bone marrow they need. My dad had two bone marrow transplants. The first failed, the second took. It's because of two selfless individuals that my dad is alive today. Because of those two people, my dad has lived to see two more of his seven children get married, and has witnessed the birth of four more grandbabies. It was because of my dad's lifesaving bone marrow transplant that I signed up for the National Marrow Donor Program. I figured it was the least I could do.
While my dad was being treated at Dana Farber in Boston, I had a chance to chat with his doctors who told me the need for bone marrow isn't just desperate- it's urgent. It devastates me that very few people really understand what it takes to become a bone marrow donor. Sure, it's a little scary, but doesn't knowing that you've got the opportunity to give another human a second chance at life outweigh the fear?
When it comes to donating bone marrow, there some myths, and so I want to dispel a few of them now.
Myth #1: You must go to a clinic to get tested and it involves a Goliath of a needle scary enough to make even the toughest person curl up in a fetal position. When I tell people that I'm a member of the National Marrow Donor Program, most focus instantly on the pain they've heard it involves. In reality, the process starts with a simple swab test. You request the test, one comes in the mail, you swab your cheeks and send it off and after the swab is processed, you're added to the database. Obviously, there will be needles down the line- how else will they get the bone marrow out of you? But rest easy, the needles don't come in until later.
Myth #2- You'll have to take out a second mortgage to cover the costs of donating bone marrow. Actually, no. If you register to be a bone marrow donor with the National Marrow Donor Program, they won’t pay you for your marrow, but they’ll cover medical costs, all travel costs and provide other assistance. Can’t promise your boss will be cool with giving you time off to save a life, but if they’re a jerk about it, shame on them. When I spoke with Linda at Be The Match, she explained that the registry would cover literally every single thing for me, and also provide transportation, lodging, etc., for my caregiver, aka my husband.
Myth #3- Once registered to be a bone marrow donor you can’t change your mind. There might be some that question this, but the last time I checked, we still live in a free country. And yeah, I think it would be awful if you found out that you were a match for someone but backed out because you simply didn't want to anymore. However, if you are a match and change your mind, that's cool. What's not okay though is dodging calls from the registry. If you’re a match for someone and you don’t have the guts to tell the registry that you're backing out, precious time will be lost as they'll need to star searching for someone else.
There are two ways a person can donate bone marrow according to the National Marrow Donor Program:
#1 PBSC Donation:
Peripheral blood stem cell donation is the most common way a person can donate bone marrow and what most people like about this is that it's a non-surgical procedure (yay!). For five days leading up to the donation, you'll be given daily injections of a drug that increases blood-forming cells in your bloodstream. On the fifth day, your blood will be removed through a needle in one arm, passed through a machine which will separate out the blood-forming cells and then the remaining blood will be put back into your body through the other arm. This procedure isn't completely pain-free, though. If you donate this way, there's a chance your bones might ache, or you might get a headache for a day or two, but that's usually as long as the symptoms last.
#2 Marrow Donation
Yeah- this is the one that people don’t like too much, but suck it up buttercup because you're saving a life! Marrow donation is a surgical procedure. You'll be put under anesthesia and a doctor will use a big needle to pull liquid from the back of your pelvic bone. After the procedure, you'll most likely feel aching in your lower back for a couple days up to a couple weeks.
Registering to be a bone marrow donor literally only takes a few minutes and in the end, you could help save a life. Think about it and do some research. Think about my dad. Think about the ones you love.
If you want to learn more, or if you'd like to request a free swab kit, the National Marrow Donor Program has an incredible amount of information, and not only is every single person I've ever spoken to there outstandingly nice, but they're ready to answer any questions you might have to throw at them.