You have a matched unrelated donor through Be The Match! and…

…what does that feel like?

When you have AML (acute myeloid leukemia), as in my case,  one recommendation by hematologist-oncologist doctors is an overhaul of your bone marrow, a.k.a stem cell transplant, which essentially means a completely new immune system.

In stem cell transplants, donors are needed to supply stem cells to recipients/patients with blood cancers or blood disorders. My first AML diagnosis was in 2016 and one of my older brothers was my donor…he was a 100% match related donor. When I relapsed 5.5 years later in October 2021, this time my doctor chose to seek a donor through Be The Match. Perhaps it’s because of the moderate level of side effects called graft versus host disease I had after the first stem cell transplant. Yes, this will be my 2nd stem cell transplant to treat relapsed leukemia (aml)!

When your donor is a family member, you are grateful and thankful to that person for saving your life. If you are the family member who is the match, it is expected you will do the right thing – right? This unspoken expectation comes from other family members as well as the recipient. Because without a stem cell transplant, the outcome is eventual death.

But what if there are no matches within the family or your doctor believes the best donor is through Be The Match?  Is the feeling of being grateful and thankful the same if your donor is unrelated to you…a complete stranger? My answer is ‘Yes” but 99% more amplified.

Let me tell you my experience when learning of my matched unrelated donor story…I was at the BMT (blood and marrow transplant) clinic getting blood work and transfusions when my transplant coordinator visited to go over the transplant process and to hand me, “The Patient Guide to Allogeneic Transplantation.” As she was reviewing The Patient Guide, she said, “Oh, you have a matched unrelated donor through Be The Match.” I was unable to say a word…there are no words to describe the intense emotions I was feeling at the time. Instead, tears welled up and I started weeping. The transplant coordinator asked if the patient information was overwhelming, and I replied I was overcome with emotion that a complete stranger, someone I never met, would willingly go through medical testing and procedures required in donating stem cells. What kind of person does that? Do they have a special kindness or generosity gene that the rest of humanity lacks? Or were they raised by parents who taught them to look beyond themselves? In our current selfish self-absorbed society, I am truly grateful for these persons who look beyond their individual realities and make a real difference to so many of us who would die without their life-saving gift.

So, the feeling is not the same when your donor is an anonymous donor versus a family member. The feeling of gratitude is much, much greater when the donor is a stranger because there are no expectations…they live their lives through action and deliberate acts of generosity.