So, this summer I did a thing.
“I’m donating bone marrow on my birthday.”
Not really a sentence you hear most people say, let alone one full of excitement. But then again, I’ve never really been “most people” in regards to anything.
I debated about posting any donor-related activity to social media. A good friend of mine once said, “Good deeds don’t seek out praise or recognition,” and I agree with that. So I grappled with that, while also reveling in how annoyingly successful social media brings awareness to topics of all kinds, from worthy causes to those that really don’t need a platform ever. Lookin at you, Kardashians.
I mulled it over, uncertain. I knew my intentions stemmed from a good place; I wanted people to know donating marrow isn’t as scary as perceived. However, I’m well aware that even the best intentions can be misconstrued. It wouldn’t be entirely unfounded to be accused of fishing for praise. While “God bless you” was not my angle, I knew it could be interpreted as such.
Ultimately, I decided that I was going to use social media in hopes that people would consider ways to improve the world, even if that meant looking like a self-praising asshole. Can’t please everyone, anyway, right?
So I’ve posted. I’ve shared. I’ve commented and elaborated. And I quickly realized there’s so much fear and misinformation out there about donating marrow, why not use my writing skills to address some of those things from a first-person perspective? So, here’s the (lengthy) low-down on why I donated marrow.
I was a collegiate junior. One of my younger cousins was diagnosed with ALL. I wanted to help families like my cousin’s, and the closest place to make the quickest impact happened to be in my own city. This prompted me to join Dance Marathon. It changed my life.
Eventually, my cousin needed a bone marrow transplant. She went on the list, and they waited, hoping someone would be a match. Thankfully, they found one, and the transplant went well. She’s now in remission, but she wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for programs like BeTheMatch.org, who have a bank of registered donors willing to help.
Pay It Forward
This is a life slogan of mine – Pay it forward. I believe that one good deed can ignite a magnificent change if only we choose to help fuel the fire.
In this case, that meant registering as a bone marrow donor. I hoped to give someone the same gift my cousin received: more time.
Ten months later, I got the call. I matched, and they wanted to proceed with blood testing. I was excited, though unfortunately, the process didn’t go much further. I got a letter in the mail a few months later stating that the patient was unable to receive a transplant. I was disappointed, but hoped that meant good news for my potential match – either another course of treatment worked, or she had a better match. The alternative is a thought I still can’t entertain.
Three short months after that letter, my phone rang again. I had matched a second time with a different patient. My coordinating team was befuddled. “Matching with more than one person almost never happens.” I hoped that this time I would be able to give more than the last.
Match with a Catch
A week after giving more blood samples for testing, I was told we would be proceeding with the donor process as long as I was still interested.
At this point, your team and the patient’s team begin strategizing: When is the best time for them to receive marrow? Several dates were proposed initially, and the timeline freaked me out.
All of the dates suggested were when I was supposed to be out of the country. I was afraid my trip would cost someone their health, which I expressed to my coordinator. I really wanted to help. Was there a way to make it happen sooner?
After several calls, we had two potential dates. One was my birthday. I kept this to myself, hoping perhaps luck would lean towards my day. I know you’re thinking, “That’s such a weird hope.” Just hold on. I’ll explain soon.
It’s a Date!
The following day, I got the call: we would be doing the donation on my birthday. YES!
“But wait…” my donor coordinator said, “I just realized… that’s your birthday… I don’t want to ask you to do this on your birthday!”
I insisted; this was exactly the way I wanted to spend it. She was delighted, and I was over the moon. Donating marrow was extremely important; I couldn’t think of a better day to give a gift to someone else.
(Here’s the part where I explain):
I’ve never really liked my birthday. It’s one of those days that sets you up for mighty expectations, and I’ve learned expectations lead to disappointment. Someone important to you forgets that it’s your birthday, or someone at your party starts a fight with someone else, or someone decides to make your birthday about them, a boyfriend is an asshole to you and storms off for no reason other than to be dramatic while you’re left with everyone staring at you… the list of unfortunate happenings for this day goes on. Not the worst thing in the world by any means, but it contributed to a routinely craptastic date that, over time, I treated with mild dread and general disinterest.
Last year, I wrote this long-winded Facebook birthday post about how I wanted to use my birthday wish to make the coming year matter for others, to positively impact the world in whatever way I could. Getting to donate marrow on my birthday exactly one year later felt like that wish coming true in the most epic way.
And that’s when it hit me.
Why not use this day that’s been crap for so long as a way to do good for others? Why not take a negative and find a way to make it positive? I don’t like my birthday, but complaining doesn’t change anything. Why not take a day about me and make it about others? So I’ve decided that every year, on my birthday, from now until my very last one, I will do something good for someone else.
I’m jazzed about this new tradition. I’m not sure how I will top this one next year, but I know that in time, something will come along that will give me inspiration for the next year. I’m excited for birthdays to come, and I haven’t felt that way in a long time.
The Real Real
To read all about the nitty-gritty, semi-gory, full details on the medical side of donor prep, donation, and recovery, click here, and I’ll tell ya all about it!