What is more precious than your life? It’s an odd question, but just think about it for a moment. Your life is your family, your friends, your hobbies, your special moments – it is everything you deem valuable to you when it really counts. Imagine the shock and fear if, one random day, someone told you that your life was not only threatened, but more than likely to end. This was the scenario my sister faced in 2011, and this is the story about how one complete stranger saved her life through a bone marrow transplant.
It was June 6, 2011. I remember it as if it was yesterday. I was sitting in the parking lot of the Lower Macungie Township swimming pool in Macungie, Pennsylvania. The phone rang. The voice on the other end was my mother and she was crying hysterically. The next words she spoke changed the trajectory of our lives forever. “Your sister has cancer” are the words I heard. The obvious and immediate questions filled my mind. How? What kind of cancer? What can we do? She was a 45-year-old single mother of three and was now in the fight of her life.
The diagnosis was Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), but with a rare genetic twist that made it extremely aggressive and very difficult to fight. The treatment would be equally as aggressive and, in reality, would be her only hope. Her most likely pathway to long-term survival would be a bone marrow transplant. The next step for my sister was an aggressive induction chemotherapy – intended to kill all leukemia cells and all of her bone marrow, in essence wiping out her body’s ability to fight infections or create its own blood cells. This process, if not successful, must be repeated, but the body can only take so much. This is why a bone marrow transplant was so critical. Without the transplant it was most likely that the treatments to keep her alive would eventually cost my sister her life.
With a wealth of new knowledge, it was time for my family to be tested to see if we were a match. The test, simple. Cotton swab + cells from inside your cheek = entry into the bone marrow database. So, not only did we have ourselves tested, but we asked friends to get tested as well. You see, while it is most likely that you will find a match within your own family, it is not required that your potentially lifesaving donation be from a family member. In fact, in my sister’s case, none of us were an acceptable match. None of our friends were acceptable matches. But, unbeknownst to us, the doctors would find three complete strangers, in Europe, who were perfect “10 out of 10” matches. Of these three complete strangers, two were either not available or not willing to donate. But, one very special woman (who chose to remain anonymous to this day), gave up one day of her time and provided the critical bone marrow that my sister needed.
Fast-forward to October 12, 2011, four months and two very aggressive chemotherapy treatments after having been diagnosed. I sat in a hospital room with my sister and my mother. I watched two small bags of slightly orange fluid be hung on an IV pole and then get connected to my sister. For an hour and six minutes we sat talking, laughing, and crying. And then, just like that, it was over. A bone marrow transplant, the thought of which makes people cringe, was complete. Simple. Painless. Full of hope.
Kurt and his two sisters, Jill & Nicole, 6 months after the transplant.
Fast-forward, once again, to today. This coming October my sister will celebrate five years since that transplant. She is a healthy survivor enjoying her life – family, friends, hobbies, and special moments (the graduation of her son from high school, the birth of her youngest nephew, the celebration of my mother’s 75th birthday, and the celebration of her own 50th birthday).
One final thought to end this story. Think back to those two little bags of slightly orange fluid hanging above my sister. Those bags turned out to be life, the gift of a new chance at life provided by a complete stranger who truly has no idea what she gave to our family. Can you imagine giving someone new life? What greater gift can there be? What could be more rewarding than to know that you have the ability to help another human being live.
Kurt's sister Jill - fully recovered thanks to a successful bone marrow transplant.
Take the minute. Allow yourself to Be the Match. We’re hosting Liquid Drops for Life, a blood drive and bone marrow registry swabbing event on August 10th. Get the details and mark your calendar to save a life.
About Kurt Cannon
Kurt Cannon leverages his more than 15 years of senior leadership experience to oversee the client experience at Liquid. As VP of Client Engagement, he is responsible for the creation of new, meaningful services in the market, the strategic application of those services for our clients, and exceeding client expectations with solid, measurable results.