Wednesday, May 1, 2013

On NOT being Cameron Lyle

Cameron Lyle, sacrificing his dreams for the life of another
There's a news story that's been circulating about a man named Cameron Lyle.  You can read about his story here on The Today Show's site.  He had signed up to be on the bone marrow donor registry.  All that meant at the time was that he had his cheek swabbed and he agreed to let someone contact him if he was ever discovered to be a match.

Now, two years later, he has given up his last few meets of his senior year, a pretty big deal to a track star, so that he can give a complete stranger the gift of hope and a potentially long life.  He has donated 2 litres of his own bone marrow and is recovering from the procedure.

My second-cousin, Becky
I have a personal connection to this story...  Well, not specifically to this story, but to the story of bone marrow donation.

My second-cousin, Becky, was diagnosed with leukemia when she was a teenager.  Our entire family was stunned and saddened.  Every one of us (who was of age) got swabbed to get on the bone marrow donor registry to see if we could be a donor for her.  Her father's brother was a close enough match that they set up the successful bone marrow transplant.  She married her high school sweet-heart and lived very happily for several years before Graft-Versus-Host Disease took over her body.  Her funeral was a bittersweet celebration of a life that was snuffed out far too soon.

A few years after I attended her funeral, I received a letter in the mail, sent from the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and addressed to my maiden name.  This letter got to me only because the sender tracked me down with an address from 15 years and four residences ago.  Whoever it was from had something important to tell me.  I opened it up, with great curiosity, knowing I had done nothing wrong, but wondering what would be so important as to be coming to me from the RCMP.

The name on the letterhead said, "OneMatch."  The gist of the letter was that I was a potential bone marrow match for a patient in need of a transplant.  Of course my mind flashed back to how amazed our family was to discover that, miraculously, Uncle Al was a match for our cousin.  And here I was, staring at a piece of paper that said I might be a match for someone else, a complete stranger. 

I called the number and, after updating my contact information with them, told them that I was interested in learning more.  They gave me an appointment at the blood donation centre just down the road from my house and said that I would need to sign paperwork agreeing to the risks associated with testing and donation.  I would also need to get my blood sent away for further testing.

I chatted with my husband when he got home that day.  He, of course, agreed that I needed to do this if I could, so I eagerly anticipated going through the testing.

The day of testing came and I went in for the appointment, which was to take about two hours.  I chatted with an advisor/counselor first who explained what I had already read, about the risks and the procedures that I would be asked to go through, delineating the downtime and recovery time should I be asked to donate.  There was an air of excitement through the clinic that morning.  We were all very hopeful.

My blood was sent away for testing, first to make sure my blood did not carry any harmful diseases, but also to confirm that it was a match for the potential recipient.  The staff at the clinic told me that it can take up to six months to hear back one way or another.  They said that if I didn't hear back it was either that the patient had chosen a different form of treatment or that the patient no longer needed treatment.

I went home and carried on with life, waiting to hear back from One Match.  The more time passed the less I thought about it.  Within a few months I finally received a letter thanking me for my willingness to donate but telling me that my bone marrow donation was no longer needed.

Reading that letter, it felt like the air had been knocked out of me.  Had the patient died?  Was my bone marrow just not close enough?  Had they found a closer match?  I just had no idea.

I still think about that patient.  I think about that patient's family even more.  I have no idea if it was a man or a woman, child or adult, married or single, parent or not.  I have no idea if that patient lived or died.  So I pray for their family.  And if that patient is alive, he or she is definitely included in those prayers.

It was such a blessing to me to anticipate giving part of me to help another life.  If you have not signed up to be on the bone marrow registry, please consider doing it.  It's so easy to sign up.  And you just never know when you might get that letter asking you to give a little bit of yourself to help someone else.

In Canada, you can find out more on the OneMatch website.
In the USA, you can find out more on the National Marrow Donor Program website.

I want to challenge you to be motivated by the news story and my cousin's story and my story.  Find out where you can get swabbed to be on the registry and then do it.  Get your entire family to do it.  You just don't know the difference you can make to another family.

And if you're already on the registry, please call them to make sure they have your most recent contact information.  Can you imagine being a match but and never being contacted because they didn't have your current info?

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