Every few seconds, the monotonous machines connected to his body would emit another high-pitched burst of sound. Beep. Beep. Beep. As he tossed and turned in the uncomfortable hospital bed, more of his fine, silky, black hair fell onto the pillows, a constant reminder that, for the second time, his trials and tribulations were very real. Today was a good day, marked by the lack of extra problems and general positive disposition, a difficult attitude to have while receiving harsh chemotherapy treatments and being confined to a hospital for close to a month. Around his wrist was a bracelet with the word “Strength” inscribed on it, something he often felt lacking in but continued to show in the face of a challenging, painful, and emotional journey.
At the beginning of April, my ten-year-old brother Jude went into the E.R. for stomach pain. What no one ever thought was possible came back as the result. The diagnosis? A relapse of leukemia. That day marked a reopened chapter in his life and my family’s life, a story we thought had been finished for good. Just that week saw the end to an exciting KERA radio story about Jude’s journey with cancer back in 2010, and this December would have marked his five-year post-bone marrow transplant anniversary. But unfortunately, life had other plans, and one journey with cancer wouldn’t be enough.
Four years ago, I donated my bone marrow to Jude, but since the transplant was ultimately unsuccessful, Jude is currently in search of a bone marrow donor. On Wednesday, May 6, Jesuit will be teaming up with All Saints Catholic School—Jude’s school—to host a bone marrow drive with Be the Match. The drive will be held from 9am to 3:30pm, and anyone who is in good health and between the ages of 18 and 60 can join can join the registry.
Because Jude is half-Filipino and half-Caucasian, the issue of finding a match becomes more difficult. Bone marrow typing is genetically inherited, making ethnicity a major factor in who matches. Unfortunately, the bone marrow registry has a very small amount of ethnic minorities—and even fewer mixed race donors—making it even more critical for ethnic minorities and biracial people to join. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Caucasian people shouldn’t join the registry! Even though you’re less likely to be a match for Jude, you could still give many blood cancer patients a chance to find a life-saving match.
All it takes to save a life is to fill out a few forms and have your cheeks swabbed in order to have your bone marrow typing in the registry of possible donors. If you are a potential match for patients like Jude and are still willing to donate your bone marrow, you’ll be contacted for additional testing to determine whether you would be a good match. After that, the donation process is relatively simple, and you’ll donate either stem cells from your blood or from your marrow.
Because I was a child when I gave my bone marrow in 2010, I was put to sleep and liquid marrow was withdrawn from my lower back—a process that’s way easier than it sounds and only took a few days to fully recover from. Another common way of donating bone marrow is by extracting the blood-forming cells from your bloodstream in which blood is taken from one arm, filtered through a machine for the blood-forming cells, and then returned, a process very similar to giving platelets.
If you are under the age of 18, you can still help patients like Jude in a monumental way. Pass the information about the drive along to all of your adult friends and family. If they don’t live in the area or can’t make it up, encourage them to join online using the promo code “teamjude.” And of course, join the registry as soon as you turn 18. Every single donor on the registry is another chance for hope and survival for people going through an incredibly difficult and painful disease, and it only takes one person to make a significant difference in the life of someone else.
As Jesuit students, we are called to “give and not to count the cost.” Taking a few minutes out of your Wednesday to fill out a few papers and stick a cotton swab in your mouth could be the difference between a person like Jude living and dying. So please, for Jude’s sake and for everyone like him, join the registry. You could save a life.