On day eighteen, it arrived. The time had finally come to see if this entire thing would work. It’s all very hypnagogic really. It’s like you’re there, but you’re not really thereand no way should you be there, so therefore you’re not.
How’s that for logical? Wasn’t my strong suit then, either.
The emotional part I’ve always had covered. And let me tell you, I was steeped in it then. Apparently that’s a normal reaction for someone who is about to receive new life in a bag, because they brought in sedatives on a silver platter about 30 minutes before they brought in Beth’s bone marrow from South Carolina.
I had spent seventeen days in a stark white, non-inviting room while my body was prepared for this exact moment round the clock. My hair was gone, my coloring and muscle tone were gone, and my patience was definitely gone. But my chance to survive had just arrived…
Beth was on the National Marrow Donor Registry (www.marrow.org) and had donated once before, so she knew what it entailed. She would check herself in at her local hospital, go under anesthesia, fall asleep and wake up with an incredibly sore hip bone – and an incredibly thankful recipient 722 miles away. A very precise amount of her marrow was extracted based on what my Oncologist determined my body would need in order to receive it, and start making its own cancer-free marrow once again.
I had what’s called an Allogenic Bone Marrow Transplant, which means the donor is another person whose tissue has the same genetic type as the person who is sick and in need of a transplant. Because tissue types are inherited, it is more likely that the recipient will find a donor match in a brother or sister. However, it only happens 25 to 30 percent of the time (Me: “See, Sarah, I TOLD you you were adopted.” Sarah: “Stick it, Beth.”) She was still saying that to me at age 22, albeit it with a much different tone in her voice.
Sarah was in my room that day, seated next to my parents on the bench under the window to my left. The pole was to my right and on it hung one bag of hope. I have no idea why I remember this, but Sarah was wearing a light blue cotton polo dress, and a pair of white Keds. Had I not been so overwrought with fear and nerves, I would have asked her if she’d gotten dressed in the dark that morning. Now I realize – she kind of had. There’s really no protocol or little yellow Cliff Notes book that tells you what to wear to your only older sister’s Bone Marrow Transplant.
Nor are there any Hallmark cards for the occasion, but Beth sent one that day. She had written a brief message of encouragement and sort of signed her name. It was scratched out even though I could read it, Nancy Drew that I am. A donor and recipient cannot meet for one year after the transplant and only then if both parties consent. The first year post-transplant is pretty dicey, so the small print and effort is made to spare additional sadness, loss, and I suppose a feeling of failure on the donor’s part if the recipient doesn’t make it.
The process began. Beth’s bone marrow was entering my body, being infused through that infamous central port. My Mom, Dad, and sister sat silently and watched. We all did – for no one really knew what to do, what to say, what to think. Well I mean, we did know what to think which is why no one was talking.
I’ve had moments in my life when no words could do the situation any justice, undue any emotion, or right a wrong. Those times asphyxiate me. This time trumped all of them.
Beth’s stem cells were finding their way to my bones to begin producing new cells, a process called engraftment. Jerk face had warned me that the situation would turn dire because I would FOR SURE get something called Graft vs. Host Disease soon after the new marrow was received. Beth’s marrow would FOR SURE see my body as foreign and begin to attack it and then he, in all his smarm and infinite wisdom, would rush in with the steroids and save the day.
FOR SURE if I ever see him again, I won’t even mention it. Really. You see, I have changed. I’m more tolerant, more forgiving, more thankful. And I can’t tell you if it comes with age (zip it) or living through an experience like this, but it does come eventually.
We are but a culmination of our experiences, our choices, and our resolve. As one of my most favorite outspoken women of all time said:
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
She was right.