Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day 1

Many life changing adventures start with a phone call. Such is the case with me. In late July I got a call from the Colorado Marrow Donor Program because I was tagged as a possible bone marrow match for a patient. I had forgotten that I joined the registry...8 years ago. Although, I remembered it then; I almost passed out when they drew my blood because they totally had to fish around in my arm to find the vein to get the sample...ugh. I donate blood on a regular basis (or as much as I can in between pregnancies and nursing, which means not as much in recent years) so it was not a big deal to me to join the registry when they came to my office at the City of Arvada years ago.

A search specialist with the CMDP called me initially. She asked if I remembered joining and if I was still interested in being on the registry. Well, who says no to the opportunity to save someone's life? Although, sad to say, people do. Using the blood sample I provided when I initially joined the registry, I came up as a possible match. After confirming my continued interest, I had to go through some additional steps. I had to fill out a (very!) complete health history online and answer a lot of questions over the phone. Once that was finished, I had to go into a Bonfils Blood Center to get some blood samples drawn to find out if I was a good match. Apparently only 8%, or 1 in 12, people who are initially contacted are a close enough match to be a donor. It was a little sad for me to find that out, because I was excited at the prospect of being able to participate.

This was not only a unique experience, but one very dear to my heart, and that of my family. My father-in-law, Mike DeShazer, was the recipient of a similar donation about a year ago for his leukemia, a blood cancer. His sister was the donor. In terms of family, there is a 1 in 4 chance that a sibling will be a good enough match. If his brother or sister was not a match, the next step would be to check his parents and children, which had 1 in 8 chance of being a good match. His mother passed away, and his father is old enough for it to be too risky. I said to him that it was good thing he had 8 children! We had a good laugh about that.

Many of you know, he passed away in February. As a family, and personally, we feel a lot of peace about it. In this way, I'm so grateful to have the chance to help someone else.

I had to wait almost 7 weeks to find out whether or not I was good match. On September 23, I got a call from the director of the CMDP and she told me the news. I still had to go through more blood tests and a complete physical and more health history. (Many thanks to all my friends who watched my kids during all these appointments!!)

Not long afterward, I received a call from a doctor at the CMDP and he told me all the details. My patient is a 41 year-old man with acute leukemia. (I later found out that he is also an international patient...I have no idea where, but still!) I would be donating not bone marrow, but peripheral blood stem cells. I was familiar with this procedure as it was exactly what my father-in-law received. It involves removing these cells, which are produced in the bone marrow, from my blood. I must say, it was nice to know I wouldn't have to (though I would have!) go under the knife for a marrow donation, which I have heard is extremely painful.

This procedure is less involved, and, to me, seems similar to dialysis. I will have the blood taken out one arm, then it will be fed through a machine to remove the stem cells, and put back in the other arm. The only problem is that enough of these stems cells do not exist naturally in the blood. I needed to get five days worth of shots to stimulate my body to force stem cells into my blood stream before my extraction. And with that freakishly long preface, today is Day 1 of injections.

As I was reviewing the information I had been given, I began to feel slightly terrified by all of this. (Although, again, I should just be grateful I'm not donating the actual bone marrow!) It's not receiving the shots themselves, which can be given in the arm, leg, or stomach, but the side-effects. The most common, and expected, is bone pain. My aunt-in-law, Krsten, who was the donor for her brother, told me that it felt like having a balloon blown up in your bones, like they were expanding. The CMDP director told me I would feel like I had arthritis in all my bones. There are other possible symptoms, but this bone pain is what I'm not looking forward to.

Of course, this would not keep me from donating. Prior to my Day 1, my patient started a lethal round of chemotherapy. It would essentially kill all his diseased bone marrow. My donation would provide him cells so he could create new bone marrow and new cancer-free blood. If I backed out now, he would almost certainly die.

Jon-Michael gave me a priesthood blessing to help me get past my minor insecurities. I felt good as I went to Presbyterian/St. Lukes Hospital this morning to receive my first set of injections. I got them in my stomach...the thought makes me feel ill...because it would hurt less there because "women tend to have more redundant tissue there." (Meaning fat.) Haha...well, receiving the injections really didn't hurt any more than any other shot. (So I guess my redundant tissue did the trick!) It was a tiny needle, like a flu shot. So I left, still feeling good. It only took 20 minutes to really start hurting. And it wasn't in my bones yet, just at both the injection sites. It was like the filgrastim just sat there in my stomach and then finally decided to spread. It was very uncomfortable, and I started to feel some anxiety because I was driving, and I didn't want it to get worse. Fortunately, the pain subsided within the next half hour, and I have felt fine since then.

Even though this is just the beginning of the procedure, which will happen on Monday (November 1), this has been such a rewarding experience. Every person I've met has been so nice and many have told me how great they think it is that I am doing this. I don't think it's great that I'm doing it, because I know any of you would do the same given the chance. It's also been particularly rewarding because I've met a lot of the hospital staff that knew Mike while he was in the hospital. One nurse today told me how much she liked him and thought it was neat that he played his guitar at the hospital all the time. I almost started crying when we were talking about it today. I hope I can help someone else's husband or father or brother or son. I know what a difference it can make. I've got a link to the National Marrow Registry Program here on my blog. It's called Be the Match. You could be a life-saving match for someone too.


Megan and TJ said...

That is just amazing, but then that is just who you are! Good luck with everything!

Carrrie said...

Oh Heather! What an amazing thing you are doing! Your story has touched me today. I hope to keep up with it on your blog! *HUGS*

MJ said...

You. Are. Awesome.

Pilar said...

Heather, You are awesome! and on top of it you babysat my kids. Thanks a lot and let me know how I can help you.

Itty_Bitty_Wittes said...

Heather - what an example you are to me and so many others. You should blog the process and the feelings so more of us could live it and eventually do it too!

I wish you the best and look forward to updates. Good Luck!

brandya said...

You are absolutely amazing! Thank you for sharing your very inspiring story with all of us. You are such a wonderful lady and I wish you and all your donor all the luck. Love ya! Hope all goes well.

Shannon said...

I ditto what everyone else has said...YOU ARE AWESOME!!! Please let me know if I can do anything to your kids or anything!

Jami said...

That is so very cool!! I'm on the registration, too, but have never been called. Good for you! :)

Marie said...

oh wow, Heather. Thank you so much for blogging your experience with this. the tutoring company i work for is hosting a bone marrow donor registry fundraiser on dec 4, and i was thinking about registering for it. now i know i will.