A friend of mine said he learned recently in a workshop that people just don’t read anymore. First off, we skim, and then the key thing is that if the text takes up more space than what’s available on the screen, ie, you have to scroll, we don’t. We’ll set it aside, click the next button, move on with good intention to return, but often don’t. Such is the super highway many of us seem to be on these days. We need a pit stop, not a rest stop.
I’m definitely guilty of letting busyness have its way with me too, but honestly, if I ever lose my love for words, I think I’ll truly have lost myself. So I want to thank you for continually joining me here. Even though my words are spaced few and far in the sharing of them, your support and encouragement are just that to me, and I appreciate each of you who read and comment and share your hope. Coming alongside, if even for a pit stop, interrupts the isolation that descends with grief, and offers up the space to companionship and grace. That in itself is a tremendous gift.
And with all that being said, yes, we’re busy with our daily days. So I thought I’d try and offer up something easily digestible in the quick moment that you have. But the truth is, it’s hard to encapsulate what this day is and means, this beautifully hope-filled 3/13 day.
It’s what this blog is all about. Its best intentions, at least. There are so many days in each year that are so impossibly hard, and they seem to come in such quick succession I can hardly catch my breath between. But then there’s today. The one day in our year of red-letters that’s all about HOPE. Those fiercely determined tendrils of HOPE that will find a will or a way, in spite of all the heaviness of grief that would push them back. Still, they come, like tiny sprouting seeds fighting their way to light and life.
That’s what this story is for me. A sprouting of hope in the shadow of loss, softening up the battered edges and shining Crystal-colored sunlight over our days.
It’s an intersection of fate and faith, and the magnitude of change our actions can bring, sometimes in ways we can hardly imagine at the time.
Our part of the story began one day when a strong and handsome young man with curly blonde hair and deep blue eyes turned 18. He skipped school that day, enjoyed a perfect mountain morning on his snowboard, then came down the hill to donate platelets. During his donation he was asked if he’d like to join Be The Match, the national bone marrow registry. He said, “Sure, why not? That’s a pretty important thing to do.” And so he did. It took four cheek swabs, half as many minutes, an understanding of what it was and what he was volunteering to possibly be called upon to consider, and that was that.
He finished out his birthday with dinner and a movie, and then went on about his days, continuing to do all the things that young men do to make their mama’s both crazy and proud.
In the meantime, there was a family on the other side of the country going about their own daily days, and in the course of things, moving from one house to another. In the midst of their move, with heat and humidity hovering close to triple digits, one of these family members, a young single mom with two young kiddos, went to cool off in the shower. Except rather than cooling off and continuing the move, she lost consciousness and collapsed.
Finding her unresponsive, they rushed her to the hospital, thinking she probably had heat stroke, or something related to the events and intensity of the day. But how horribly shocked and devastated they were when instead; this young single mom was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Blood Cancer.
On top of that, the hospital where she was taken didn’t have the means to treat her, and after identifying just how advanced the cancer was, basically told her and the family to begin their goodbyes. That she probably had two weeks at best, and no more than a 10% chance at that.
I can’t imagine how you even begin to digest that.
But there was a nurse who decided that wasn’t going to be the end of the story. She knew there was no chance for this mom where she was, but there was a place that could treat her, and this nurse was determined to get her transferred there.
It wasn’t easy, from what they’ve shared. But this nurse wouldn’t give up until one of those cancer doctors said yes, he would take on this case with the tiniest sliver of hope. And thank goodness, because it wasn’t a ‘case,’ it was Crystal.
Against all odds, she was transferred to a specialized unit at a high-level hospital, and it was determined that a bone marrow transplant was her only chance to survive. Even that would be a long shot in her weakened and advanced condition, but it was her only hope. This young mom’s siblings both came in for testing, as they can often be a best-match, and at the same time a search was initiated in the Be The Match bone marrow registry database.
That’s where our stories intersect.
Because while her siblings tested at 5 out of 10 and 7 out of 10 in the bone marrow match markers they used at the time, that blue-eyed boy who had swabbed his cheek a couple of years before? He was a 10 out of 10. A perfect match.
And that boy was my son.
I’ll never forget the night he called. He was in the middle of a military training school at the time. We usually talked on Sundays, but he had called during the week, so I knew something was up. And sure enough, he said, “Mom, guess what? You’re never gonna believe who called today. I might be a bone marrow match for someone! They said I was one of three who came up as possible matches for someone in need of a transplant, and they asked if I’d go through some more testing to determine if I might be the best candidate. I said sure, of course.”
“And Mom,” he said, “I hope I’m the one…”
Now this boy could be pretty stoic, as some of you definitely know. He had a great smile and quiet confidence, but even with big successes in life and academics, and big wins on the various fields or rinks he played on through the years, he kind of took things in stride and you wouldn’t often (or ever!) call him exuberant or catch him gushing over things.
But this, this was different. And honestly, how could you not feel more than a bit of awe at just the thought of literally being able to save a person’s life? To deliberately follow through on a decision to say yes if called upon, and give what you could, in the ways you were able, to literally give life to another. There was a reverence in the way his voice lowered as he spoke those words that night, and I will never forget it.
And as it turned out, he was the one. Jake was a perfect match for a stranger he’d never met, but needed what only he could give.
The timing was awful in terms of his service to the Marine Corps. He had just arrived at his first formal duty station and been chafed from the inside out because Be The Match had called his Commanding Officer directly before he could send a proper heads-up through the chain of command. But still, thankfully, the magnitude of this opportunity to help was not lost on those decision makers, and in March of 2012, Jake was granted permissive TDY (military leave not charged against what you earn) and sent to Washington DC to start the marrow donation process.
Now most people think of bone marrow donation as a drill and a hip and a tremendous amount of pain, and frankly, according to Be The Match, they’re often deterred by that. Tragically, close to 50% of people who join the registry do not follow through when called upon to donate. But a higher and higher percentage of people are able to donate by PBSC, Peripheral Blood Stem Cell donation, and hopefully this less invasive process will start raising the percentages of follow-through by those who are able.
Jake would have done it either way, but it was determined that PBSC would be the best way for him to donate what she needed, and so during his week in Washington, he went into a specialized clinic each morning and was given an injection that boosted his body’s production of the cells that Crystal would need. On the 6th day, he went in for the actual donation process, and it was much like donating platelets. The process is called apheresis, and though it took about 6 hours, he was sitting comfortably in a recliner the whole time, and honestly, he said the worst part of it was that he couldn’t get up to use the bathroom. Other than that, there was no pain at all for him in the process, other than feeling a little tired at the end. He watched a hockey game on TV and listened to music. Pretty mundane things in the course of doing something that would potentially save a life, don’t you think? I thought so!
On Crystal’s side of that day, she was even sicker and weaker than she’d originally been. At that point, she had been through months of chemo and radiation in an attempt to kill off virtually everything in her body, preparing it for Jake’s hopefully life-giving stem cells. Her family was busy praying for the best and preparing for the worst, as we so easily say until we find ourselves in the middle of actually trying to do that.
And the odds? They were just that. Odds. Her doctors and care team had carefully planned and prepared for the procedure and covered every possible outcome and contingency, but the first 48 hours post-transplant were crucial they said. Her body would either start to accept, or start to reject, and it could easily go either way.
Understanding now what Crystal and her family went through on the other side of Jake’s donation, it’s a little embarrassing to consider how easy it was for him. But I guess that’s the thing. I mean, isn’t that the point? Our yes can manifest in a myriad of ways, many much harder than others. But what matters is the decision. Saying yes in the ways that we can, simply because we can.
As Jake made his way back to base that week, Crystal’s family intently prayed over his ‘yes,’ watching as it was delivered through a pic line into her cancer-wracked body. It was a harrowing and prayer-filled couple of days as they watched and waited, and then they all took in a deep breath of hope as monitors leveled out and cells started resuming their work of living. His, in her.
It still and always makes me catch my breath! That modern medicine can do this and is getting better at it all the time. That my son got to be the one to be a part of her story, and leaves that legacy, that new family tie. A gift to us all.
There’s so much more to the story. The depth and breadth of it steals the d right out from under that last word. But that’s what God does, isn’t it? He weaves in the wonders and shows us that when we each answer our call, miracles are birthed.
Like today. 3/13. A hope-filled re-birth day, celebrating 7 years since Crystal’s transplant of Jake’s stem cells. They are still doing exactly what they should be, as if they always had, and her body is 100% cancer-free.
Imagine the life and living she’s been able to do in all that time!
And then I think of all the things that had to happen for this miracle to be so.
–The precipitating event, scary as it was, gave them knowledge they didn’t have, and time they didn’t know they needed.
–The nurse, who wouldn’t give up on getting her where she needed to be.
–The doctor who said yes, he would take this case and help her fight.
–Her parents, with her every step of the way.
–Her own fierce determination and strength not to give up.
–Dozens and dozens of blood and platelet donors who also said yes, donating life-giving products to be on the shelves when she needed them most.
–And Jake’s yes, an integral part of the whole, giving her body the ability to recover, and her heart and hope and family the ability to fight for it.
It’s pretty remarkable, don’t you think?
So today is a treasured day, reminding us they all should be, and Crystal does just that. Her heart is hope-filled, always, and she can’t help but share it with all who surround her.
She Crystal-colors our days, even from afar, and we’re so very thankful to have her and her family in our lives. To see and be a part of the amazing light and love they shine on everyone, and to see the strength of Jake live on in and through her.
It’s our 3/13 my sister friend! And I love you.
If you’re inspired by Jake and Crystal’s story and would like to learn more about joining Be The Match, please click here Join.BeTheMatch.org/JC313 or feel free to contact me. I’d love to hear from you and share more about how you could give the gift of more every days to someone in need. It doesn’t cost a thing, but oh what it can give!