Got me down to the very marrow...

As I checked voicemail messages yesterday at home, I was both surprised and delighted to learn that both messages were in fact for ME. Y'see, this never happens. The phone is so seldom for me that I don't even react when the phone rings anymore (unless, of course, my lovely wife and mother of my children is busy and can't be expected to field her own calls).

I can't tell you the subject of the first message (you may learn that eventually) -- but the second message was from a woman who only gave me her name, that she was with Canadian Blood Services, and a 1-866 number to call her back at. Figuring this was more than just a courtesy call or an address-check, I called her back and learned that I was a possible donor match for a bone marrow transplant candidate!

I was told I would have to go through an interview process by a health professional - a 20-minute survey which would be administered over the telephone. Indeed, this interview is to take place in only a few moments. I'll get back to you on what I learned, but in the meantime, a little background.

In March of 2002, my father was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (or ALL). We were told that it wasn't uncommon for adults to develop leukemia, but the type usually developed is CML, or Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, something which is very treatable using medication which does not ravage the body too heavily. My father's type of Leukemia was more common in children.

Not to make a long story short -- he underwent chemotherapy immediately and with a few ups, a few downs, and some downright scary situations, he went into remission in August of that year. My wife and I were married that October and my father swore he had to get through the chemotherapy because he had wedding plans to fulfill. Dad remained in remission until January of 2003.

The disease morphed into Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) due to something called the Philadelphia Chromosome, and it required a major decision. Did we want to go through the possibility of chemotherapy once again, knowing what it had done to his body the first time? Or did we want to just watch this disease progress and destroy him. To say it was a hard decision would understate the degree of optimism and hope we had at the time. We decided (with him, of course) that he would undergo more chemotherapy and take his chances.

He died in August of 2003, succumbing to kidney failure caused by the chemotherapy and his body's inability to bounce back and go on producing red blood cells. His marrow was shot, and the complications snowballed.

After a lot of time spent with my family and with my wife, I decided to register with Canadian Blood Services as a donor in the unrelated transplant pool. When it comes to finding bone marrow transplant donors, the best bet is either a twin sibling, a brother or sister, or someone entirely unrelated to you. Other family members (parents, kids) are unlikely candidates due to genetic differences. It was my hope that I could be a help to someone out there who needs a transplant, and I was a little disappointed after a couple of years passed without a call from Canadian Blood Services, even though I know how rare finding a match can be.

So now, I'm waiting for them to call. More in a bit, my friends...




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Update

I went through the whole health interview process, which took over half an hour and included questions about my general health (blood problems, nervous disorders, past injuries, anything to do with back pain, etc) and then got into the juicier things, like whether I've ever slept with a man - even once ("no"), whether I've been to the UK or France for three weeks or more since 1980, been to Africa, slept with someone from Africa, whether I've slept with anyone for money, injected drugs, hormones, or steroids, or any permutation or combination of the above. (all "no", just FYI).

My answers confirmed two things:
a) that I lead a relatively boring, but safe life.
b) that the above statement, and the fact that I'm male, make me a pretty good candidate in general.

I have to go for a blood draw of 8-10 vials in the next little while, which will be extensively tested, and I should hear back from them by May (!), indicating that:
1) I'm not a good match after all,
2) I'm a good match and they want to proceed,
3) that I'm a good match but they're not proceeding due to the recipient's condition (it may have improved or worsened in that time), or
4) that I'm a good match but there's a better match out there, in which case I should just hold my horses for a while longer.

I'm told that right now, I'm a 6/10 match, knowing what they know about my blood. I do not know how many other potential donors they may have on the line, or (obviously) how good a match I might actually be once the full suite of tests are run.

The Case Manager (let's call her, oh...Cheryl) informed me of the two procedures that could be used to get a donation from me, the first being two hollow needles inserted into my hips from behind (umm ...ow?), and the second being a stem cell draw from the blood following an injection of GCSF, a stimulant for the production of marrow in the blood. Apparently the recipient's condition influences which method they could use to get the donation.

And for the next little while, I'm to just lay low, keep leading the safe life, not donate any blood, and let them know if I'm leaving town for more than a week. All in all, not much of a challenge.

I'm excited about the prospect of being a donor, despite the probable discomfort and the time away from work it may entail. But, more than anything, I would want whatever happens to actually work. Ya know?

Posted bythemikestand at 10:35 AM  

9 stepped up to the mike:

Sassy said... 11:20 AM, March 16, 2006  

oh wow!! I've always wanted to do that, but due to some genetics and my own health (anemia, etc) I'm always afraid they'll turn me down. Please let us know what happens!! *praying for ya!*

gingajoy said... 12:08 PM, March 16, 2006  

whoah. sorry to hear about your dad. what an ordeal you look just like my son in that picture, which made me start a bit. i hope you get to do this thing, and big kudos for going for it.

Sassy said... 12:29 PM, March 16, 2006  

oh wow, just read the update. The two pictures are awesome...you should frame those side-by-side (if you haven't already). Again, I admire you...

Ramz said... 12:56 PM, March 16, 2006  

Very moving. To be able to help in this way must mean a lot. Like you say, may it will work out, whatever the course.

jenB said... 5:39 PM, March 16, 2006  

you are awesome. those photos are lovely. and you made me cry.

good on you my friend.

coolbeans said... 12:19 AM, March 17, 2006  

I am assuming the boy in the first picture is you and the next time I take The Toddler in for a haircut, I'm TAKING THAT PICTURE. That is exactly how I want his white blonde hair to look and they never get it right. What sweet pictures.

jenB said the other stuff I was going to say.

themikestand said... 8:38 AM, March 17, 2006  

Thanks for the kind words, everyone. I told my mother last night about being selected as a possible donor, and she was thrilled to hear it. So, I guess it's not just me.

And thanks for the compliments on the pictures. I did take that pic of me and my son as a tribute (or a continuation...) to the picture of me and my father. Jack's clearly not the blondie I was, but you have to blame his mother and her strong genetics for squelching out my blonde-and-green-eyed-ness.

Belinda said... 3:06 AM, March 18, 2006  

I can't even see to type through the tears. Those two pictures...and my own father's being gone still hurting so...oh.

God bless you.

SassyK said... 8:22 AM, March 20, 2006  

Your entry is so touching. I really love the picture of you and your dad, and you and your son. Really lovely. Amazing how fast the present becomes nostalgia before you even realise.

Anyway, I really admire your selflessless. Keep us posted.

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