Be The Match

Around three years ago, my work had a luncheon with the Be The Match bone marrow donation program and I signed up. I may or may not have been lured in by free sandwiches. They swabbed our cheeks as a sample and took our contact information.

I promptly forgot about this, save for a few mass emails. Then in August, after I had quit my job and my health insurance was about to run out, sure enough, I got a phone call and email that I was a match with someone with cancer.

For some reason I never really thought they would call me. It all seemed very abstract. But once you know that there is one particular person out there who needs your help — and you are the only one who can do it — how could I say no?

So I went to NIH in September and did a blood test to confirm. There was someone who was a better match than me, but a month later I found out that person couldn't do it. Thankfully for me, it wasn't the type where they go in through your hip and you have to stay overnight in the hospital. Instead, it was a PBSC donation where they give you injections to increase your blood-forming cells, then they take it out through your blood. You can read more about it in that link.

So within a few weeks I went and got a physical and then for five days before my donation day, a nurse gave me a shot. My back hurt and I had a headache. It was strange to have my own private nurse, coming to my apartment every day to give me a shot. The last day, they put me up in a hotel near NIH and the nurse showed up to give me a shot. "I always feel like it's a scene from Law & Order," she said as she got the needle ready. "Like the cops are going to bust down the hotel room door." It did feel like some kind of doping ring.

The next day I was nervous about the needles because I have small veins. But that was fine. What turned out to be the worst was the sheer amount of time it took. You can't get up or stand up or move your right arm. But you can watch movies. I watched "He's Just Not That Into You" then moved onto "The King's Speech" while trying to eat a pb&j sandwich, getting jelly all over my hospital gown. I figured I was almost done. Then the doctor said I had five more hours left. Shortly after that, I started panicking. It was a little bit painful, but also mentally taxing to know you can't move, at all. I worried that I wouldn't be able to make it the rest of the time, and then they wouldn't get enough bone marrow and it would all be a waste. But I watched "The Devil Wears Prada" and pushed through.

So I spent about two of the eight hours crying. Ha. Poor nurses. That's been the pattern this year. I can do brave things —quit a job that makes me miserable, donate bone marrow — I'll just cry copiously while doing said brave things.

And every time anyone came over and said things like "You're saving someone's life," I would just start crying. I don't know why. Then the doctor and the nurses would start freaking out. I tried to tell them, "Don't mind me, I cry all the time."

So immediately after it was finally over I felt weak and tired, and I did feel tired yesterday a little bit but I feel pretty good today. They got enough bone marrow and shipped it off. I'm praying it will help cure the patient. My donor coordinator, who was so sweet throughout the whole process and sent balloons and chocolate-covered strawberries and bananas yesterday, said I could find out in thirty days what happened with the patient. I don't know if I want to know, if it doesn't help it will be so disappointing.