Last month I was contacted by the National Bone Marrow Registry, which I signed up for in college. A 57-year-old male with cancer (aka “myelofibro myeloid metaplasia” aka “bone-itis”) needed a transplant and I was a likely donor candidate. I went in and submitted some blood for testing and found that, yes, I was a perfect match. A few weeks ago I went in for a physical to clear me for donation, and was scheduled to donate bone marrow in just over two weeks.
Today I was told that the patient was transferred to Hospice and not expected to make it. The donation has been cancelled.
It’s been an extremely emotional time for me. I’ve always heard that donating bone marrow is an extremely painful process. It turns out that there are two ways it can be harvested. One is through surgery, removing the marrow by drilling into the hip, and is quite painful. The other is by donating peripheral blood stem cells. This newer PBSC method involves taking a series of five injections of a drug called Filgrastin which would make my body create extra marrow and release it into the bloodstream. I’d then go in one day and sit in a chair for several hours while they pump out my blood, spin out the marrow in a centrifuge, and pump the plasma back in. Side effects of the drug range from mild discomfort to flu-like symptoms, headache, and bone pain.
It sounded better than surgery, but still wasn’t something I was looking forward to. But there was never a time when I was considering declining to donate marrow. I was given a chance to literally save someone’s life in exchange for a week of possible discomfort. The brochure said that being asked to be a donor can be emotionally trying. It’s certainly taken its toll on me. Reading through the list of possible side effects made my physically ill, and watching the video about the donation didn’t help. I had a feeling of, “why is this happening to me? Why do I have to go through this?” I started to feel better about the process when I went in for the screening physical and was told that most patients just feel a little lousy from the drug, take a steady dose of Tylenol, and then it’s over. Seeing how the procedure worked let me understand it, and being treated like a hero by the x-ray technician was an amazing feeling.
But now it’s all off, and this guy I’ve never met is going to die within two weeks of my being able to give him the marrow that may have saved his life. The registry rep said he likely wasn’t diagnosed in time. All that’s left is for me to say a prayer for him and his family.