I'll never forget the day. I was 18 years old, at home cooking a hamburger. It was about 8 p.m., and the phone rang. It was my father saying he was in town and wanted to talk.
I politely declined and hung up. My parents got divorced when I was really young, and I had not once heard from him, ever. So, needless to say, to me he was a stranger, and I had no desire to meet him.
A few minutes later, my older brother called and said that our father had called him, too, and asked me to go with him to see him. My brother is a few years older and had memories of him as a kid. So I went to support my brother.
When we got to his hotel, our father made small talk and then started to tell us that he had been diagnosed with leukemia and that he had gone through the bone marrow registry and had no luck finding a match. He asked if we would be willing to get tested to see if we matched with him. We would fly to New York to his doctor to do the bloodwork (we live in Florida).
I thought, sure, get a free vacation, get to see my grandparents (my mother’s parents), why not.
We got to New York and saw the doctor. He told us, “I wouldn't worry too much; there's a one-in-a-million chance that you'll match to be a donor.”
My brother matched two out of the six [molecular makers in the immune system used to make a match], but I was six out of six: perfect match.
They were ecstatic; I, on the other hand, wasn't: I still held a lot of resentment after feeling abandoned and unwanted from my whole life never hearing from him.
I reluctantly agreed to do it, so I stayed in New York while they made arrangements with the Hutch and found housing in Seattle during our stay.
(Side note: I really wish I remembered the name of the housing place where we stayed [in Seattle]. It was filled with families in the same situation, either donors or family members of cancer patients. The time spent with those people — [how they were] going through the same things as I was going through, and how we all helped each other make it through the dark days and celebrate the good times — lives with me to this day. And I will always be grateful for them.)
Anyway, back to my story: I was in New York waiting to leave for Seattle, and my father and I got into an argument. I told him forget it, I wasn't doing the transplant.
“Take me to my grandparents’ and put me on the next flight back to Florida,” I said, “and good luck.”
I went to my grandparents’. The next morning my grandma sat next to me and said, “You know, you have every right to be angry with him and hate him. Because you're right — where was he all those years? No calls, no birthday cards, et cetera. But I want you to stop and think about one thing. In 20 years from now, when you’re older and wiser, will you be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say, I had a chance to save someone's life and didn't?”
Dang grandparents and their wisdom! So I decided to do it. And it's been over 20 years since, and she was right: I'm glad I did it. I can look at myself in the mirror knowing I did everything possible to help.
So we made it to Seattle and met with the doctors and nurses at the Hutch. I remember they were so nice and helpful. They made sure I personally had everything I needed, and they told me step by step what was going to happen and what to expect so I would have no surprises. They made sure I was comfortable in every way, shape and form. And the nurses were by far the best I've ever dealt with, even to this day.
We did the transplant, and I was there for months afterward to give platelets.
We left for home, me to Florida, and my father to New York. Then, about seven months later, I got the news that he had passed. I guess his immune system never fully recovered.
I have no regrets on going through all the tests, the pain of the transplant procedure and the hours sitting hooked to a machine taking the platelets. Honestly, if I was in a position to help someone, I would do it all again. My only small regret is that I didn't take the time to get to know my father while I was with him for that year.
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