I mean this quite sincerely: Receiving the gift of bone marrow from a stranger was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Just knowing that someone wanted to commit an act of generosity and love for a complete stranger—no strings attached, not wanting to know what kind of person I was or if I was worthy, but just because I needed it—gave me the hope to power through that difficult post-transplant year.
Because while, yes, swabbing ones’ cheeks to join the bone marrow registry is super easy, the actual process of donating is, well…a process. It involves going through a series of tests, preparing for the procedure, and then extraction of marrow under sedation, which is bound to hurt when you wake up. The idea that there was someone out there who would do that—thousands of someones, in fact—made my brain cells explode.
I had the opportunity to write to my donor during the year of recovery and he wrote back, wishing me well, urging me on. During the peak of my anxiety, studying the careful handwriting of his letter helped me focus on the people in my life who were rooting for me.
I finally had the chance to meet my donor at a charity event for Gift of Life, the organization that found my match. This event was so special on so many levels, but most of all as a chance to meet my donor and his family.
My donor turns out to be one of the coolest people you will meet, ever. He is just a lovely, kind, chill, successful person who hates attention. (At a charity event that was basically all about how amazing he was he completely eschewed the spotlight.) Even though he is a bit younger than me, he always acts like a real grown up. We met for lunch once and he insisted on treating me to sushi and when I was like shouldn’t I buy the handrolls because you saved my life and all he was like whatever no and just put down his credit card. So I won’t use his name because I think he would be embarrassed but even though we don’t keep in close contact every time I think about him I feel happy because the world needs more people like him.
So anyway not saying my donor being awesome is a reflection on me but we do share 12/12 Human Leukocyte Antigen Markers, so YOU DO THE MATH.
While I obviously overall hated the entire experience, receiving marrow from a stranger is something that will stay with me forever, not just in my literal immune system but also imprinted into that part of me that is over and above whatever my synapses and cells and muscles and bones are doing, which is to say—on a soul level.
If you are reading this but not because you are dealing with a super serious illness, then you too can be like my donor and save a life. At either of the following sites, you can get a swab kit mailed to you:
It is tremendously important because there are many, many people who don’t have matches in the registry. In fact, this is yet another circumstance where there is severe disparity based on racial and ethnic background. Grappling with the need for a transplant is traumatic enough without also having to worry if this life-saving treatment will even be available.
If you’re able, you should absolutely join the registry and let me know if you did so in the comments. (“But Sarah, this is not 2010 stop trying to make blog comments a thing.” MAKE ME!!)
It’s not every day in this troubled world that you have the opportunity to do something so purely selfless and good. Why not go for it?