Transplant 101

INTRO TO STEM TRANSPLANT

“Intro to Stem Transplant.”  That was the name of the class I took a couple of weeks ago at MD Anderson.  I didn’t get any college credit nor was there a test at the end to show that I passed the course.  I didn’t even have to take it, it was totally optional.  This optional hour and a half class ended up making me think the hardest about anything since I started my battle against non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  It made me ask myself, “Why them and not me?”  I know that sounds weird being that I’m going through this cancer battle and that maybe the question should be inverted, i.e. “why me and not them?”  Let me explain.

You see, this class was simply about information.  Information for stem cell transplant candidates and their caregivers about what to expect and how to prepare the best way possible for the inescapable leave of absence from our homes.  Information about what exactly is a stem cell transplant, types of transplants, health risks, and the list goes on and on.  I was alone in this class and that fact was not lost on me.  Everyone else had someone: a spouse, sibling, son, daughter, caregiver.  It was nobody’s fault I was alone as my father was waiting in the lobby since English is not his forte.  My husband was stuck back home working for the medical insurance I still so desperately need.  In hindsight, I think it was better that I was alone.  It allowed me to really listen to the plight of the people around me.  Yes, my plight is dire but, believe it or not, some of my peers that day in that very room have it much worse.

AUTOLOGOUS VS. ALLOGENEIC

I’ve been asked time and again since I first let people know about my upcoming stem cell transplant if they could somehow be a donor and told that if i needed their bone marrow, they would gladly give it.  I feel so lucky to have people around me that are so giving that they would literally give a part of themselves just for me.  Truly humbling stuff.  I’ll tell you why else I feel so lucky.  For reasons still unbeknownst to me, I don’t need a donor.  That’s right.  The stem cells I’ll be receiving will be from my own blood.  The transplant I’ll be having is an autologous transplant. In short, I’ll get hooked up to an apheresis machine (which resembles a dialysis machine) that will filter the stem cells from my blood and then they’ll freeze those stem cells.  After a high-dose chemo session to stop bone marrow production, those cells will then be placed back into my blood stream with the hope that they will find their way back to the bone marrow and start to reproduce normally.  Its all relatively painless except for that pesky little thing called chemotherapy, or rat poison as I like to call it.

Apheresis: Stem Cell Transplant

There were several people that day in my class that aren’t so lucky.  They need an allogeneic transplant which, you guessed it, requires a donor.  I used to think stem cell transplants were solely for leukemia patients, but I’ve since learned otherwise.  Its also used to treat other cancers such as lymphoma, myeloma, and breast cancer and other non-cancer diseases such as sickle cell anemia, aplastic anemia, various immune-defficiency diseases, and the list goes on.  That day in class, there was a diverse group of us with lymphoma, myeloma, and leukemia.  The instructor asked us to raise our hands if we were having an auto transplant.  Only about half of us raised our hands.  The rest were set to have a donor transplant.  HALF THE CLASS.  That was the moment I found myself asking the question:  “Why them and not me?”

It then became apparent as the class wore on that the chances of finding a donor in the National Bone Marrow Registry or Be The Match, are bleak.  Just as only half my class raised their hand, statistically only half of that remaining half will find a donor.  A quarter of my peers that day in that class won’t find a donor.  According to Be The Match, 10,000 patients worldwide need a bone marrow transplant but only half will receive one.  I almost lost it in class as this horrible truth reared its ugly head right in my face.  I couldn’t imagine the stress that I’d already been experiencing only to be made worse by hoping for a donor, hoping to find that one perfect match that could save my life.  Unimagineable.

THE CHALLENGE.

I left that day with mixed feelings.  Relief at the fact that I don’t need a donor.  Sorrow for those that do.  Anger at the fact that half of them won’t find their perfect match.  Most of all, I felt propelled.  I HAD to do something, even in my own small way.  I went online straightaway to find more information on this whole stem cell donor business.  After perusing the many pages of Be The Match, it was clear.  If people were asking me if I needed a donor, why not have them make good on that and become a donor on the national registry?  Why not try to get more people added onto that list?  Why not?

I knew who I had to ask first.  As soon as I got back into town, I sat my husband down.  I told him about the people I’d met and how lucky we were that I didn’t need a donor.  I didn’t have to ask and he didn’t hesitate.  He immediately asked what he needed to do to be put on the national donor registry.  Needless to say, I was overjoyed!  Be it whether he gets a match or not one day, its enough to know that he is willing to save a stranger’s life.  He put it best in this way, “If it were you, I’d want someone to save your life.”

After this conversation, I knew more could be done.  If my husband would do it in my honor, how many others would do it too?  After all, I could have VERY easily fallen into this category of needing a donor transplant.  That could have been me.  And I’ll take it a step further, make it a little more uncomfortable in here.  You reading this now, yes you my loyal reader, it could be you.  Your spouse, your child, your parent, your best friend, your neighbor, or (ahem) your favorite Zumba instructor.  Cancer knows no bounds and has no respect for those we hold dearest.  By the way, if you’re a minority such as Hispanic, African-American, Asian, Indian, or Islander, your chances of finding a match have just been cut down again.  This Mexican-American right here would be up a creek right about now.  There aren’t enough registry members of diverse racial and ethnic heritage so adding more diverse members increases the likelihood that all patients will find a life-saving match.

So here it is, the challenge:  I challenge you (yes, you!) to save a life.  Get your name added to the national bone marrow registry today, don’t wait.  Save a life in your lifetime.  Why not?  What do you have to lose besides a few replenishable cells?

Yeah I did it.  I busted out the sad puppy, Sarah McLachlan-esque sob-inducing video to further my cause.  So sue me.  But then get your name on the bone marrow registry.  Visit Be The Match and see just how simple the process really is.

P.S.

I’ll be posting pictures soon of my adorable husband with his self-kit from Be The Match to prove just how easy it is.  Cheek (face…just clarifying) + cotton swab = nationally registered donor.  It really is that simple!

P.S.S.

I want to see your pictures too.  Hey I need proof!!

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11 thoughts on “Transplant 101

  1. jessica.espino84@gmail.com says:

    🙂 I am so extremely proud of you for writing this. It sounds silly but my motto that I’ve been living by for the last three years is “See a need, fill a need!” Which appropriately enough comes from my son’s cartoon. It’s so important that you out to information to people whom might otherwise have never thought about becoming a donor or known that they could. I can’t say that I am going to be a super hero donor and save the day for someone but I certainly will try!

  2. Lori Carlino says:

    Christina, thanks for making the need for donors hit home. The minority need is huge. I have been on the registy for about nine years. I have never been called, but I get occasional emails to ensure my contact info is up to date. It’s that easy. I am praying that all in your class get the donors they need. Love and prayers-Lori Carlino

  3. deb says:

    WOW ! First let me thank God for the blessing for you not needing a donor. amen!
    I have learned so much from following your posts and just realized that Im also reminded, its not all about me. Once again Im reminded of our duties here to help others. The less fortunate, homeless, sick and hurting. We sit and worry about the petty things while others fight and pray just to have the small stuff. Gods plans for you are eye opening to me. I will be honored to go sign up to be a match and hopefully I will save a life just as Jesus saved mine. Love you girl… Tears… Deb

  4. Blair says:

    Thanks for challenging us with this! We had a registry at our church a couple years ago. My brother-in-law was actually matched with someone and able to give his marrow. Prayers for you in your continued journey. I’m an EnRitmo student, and sad to see the studio close but glad you can focus your efforts on this. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  5. Sylvia says:

    God is great and taking care of you and your family. I hope we get more people to register.

  6. srodriguez0412 says:

    You are so darn inspiring!! We were both already thinking we would donate for you just as I saw the title of your blog. I am super excited that you don’t need a donor and I will go check out that website later after life group to see how it all works. Love ya!

  7. […] Cristina and German Rodriguez (follow her progress at https://lymphomasucks.wordpress.com) […]

  8. Cynthia Casas says:

    German said it perfectly. I am already signed up.

  9. I’m so happy to know that you don’t need a donor, particularly after reading your blog and realizing that half of those who do need donors never get one. At first glance it looks as though I will not be able to donate because of spinal issues, but I’m going to investigate further to make sure I’m understanding properly what I read. That said, i can certainly get the word out, and I will do that by passing your blog on to my fb friends. Thank you for making us aware of this need. Love you, Sister!

  10. Janie Garza says:

    You are AMAZING! 😀
    I’m so glad I ran into your blog! I can proudly say I registered many years ago. Wooo!  I am 28 years old. Many may say, “Janie doesn’t have a life.” but you know what? It’s okay!! Let me explain myself. I am a certified tissue bank specialist at a local tissue bank. Tissue? Yes, tissue. And no, not kleenex! Lol. Since you have been talking about transplants, here’s more info! My job is to inform families in their most painful times (loss of a loved one) about the possibility of them offering a key to someone else’s locked life, bringing positivity to a catastrophic situation.  Tissue donation encompasses heart valves, skin, corneas, bone, and things of that nature, in other words, not organs, but nonetheless life saving. It’s tough… It’s not an easy job, I average 60 hour weeks, and love every minute of it. Unfortunately, the only individuals I can’t help are those with blood cancers, and that’s so unfair! But before I get carried away with my job details, because I tend to, this is why I’m mentioning this. I am 28 years old and I have been dedicating myself to helping others, helping strangers since I can remember. I never get to see who I help, but knowing I did it means the world already. Back to my point. My job keeps me busy, but I have picked up a “hobby.” Ha! Crazy… I know! It gets better. I mentioned leukemia and lymphoma earlier, or rather blood cancers. I caught myself thinking one day, thinking of how I could help. My answer landed at my front doorstep, it really did!  On June 12, I joined the team in training for The Leukemia and Lymphoma society. I went from coming home and laying on my couch, to running 5.34 miles last Saturday! I have been in disbelief, the journey has been amazing. My marathon, or rather half marathon (13.1 miles) is on November 11 in San Antonio. My team consists of over 100 members! Soo many people gathering for such a humbling cause is even more humbling! The majority of us have registered on the bone marrow registry, my team is 75% Hispanic. Change is coming doll! Your story, your blogs, YOU in general have touched me! My family and I fortunately haven’t had to battle blood cancer, but I know that’s not everyone’s story. I will be running 5 miles this Saturday at practice, and those will be dedicated to you. I’ve read sometimes walking across your bedroom is exhausting, I can’t even imagine that. So I’ll run for you, because it would be an honor for me to do so. Sometimes it’s hard to get up at 5:30 am to run 5 miles after working 60 hour weeks. I think you see why some people may think, “Janie doesn’t have a life.” “Ha!” I say to them!  Our coaches encourage us to run for someone, and I think I understand what she means now. You know, you may have just given me that extra drive I needed, you’ve changed my perspective once again. Thank you for your blog. I can’t stop reading! Keep up the good work! Sorry About writing you a mini novel, lol. But I had to say it all! Oh, and did I mention you were “Amazing”? 😀

    • Janie, thank you SO much for dedicating your run today to me! I’m so happy you liked my blog and that it’s inspired you more in your running. Maybe one day I’ll join you for one of those runs. You never know! Keep reading and keep running, God bless you!

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