In the fall of my freshman year of college back in 2018, I came across a Facebook post about a need for a bone marrow donation for a young girl with cancer in the Bay Area Jewish community. The post detailed how easy it was to sign up to donate–all you had to do was swab your cheek. I joined the National Marrow Donor Program through Be the Match, a nonprofit that facilitates bone marrow and blood stem cell transplants, and promptly forgot all about it.
Then, in June of 2020, the start of the pandemic, I began to receive calls and texts from Be the Match, telling me I was a perfect match for a 67-year-old man with acute myeloid leukemia. After doctors' appointments, a few rounds of blood work, a series of shots to make my immune system produce more stem cells, and a trip to the Stanford Apheresis Unit for a 7-hour donation, my cells were making their way to the patient.
I was not the only one from my class at Hausner to donate bone marrow that year–Isa Z, my classmate, donated just a few months before me. The fact that we were both donating so close together felt almost holy, like fate. Having her advice and insight into what to expect was helpful, calming, and validating. Her recipient is also doing very well.
Because of HIPAA rules, my recipient and I had to stay anonymous for one year, though we were able to send each other letters with no identifying information. It reminded me of a teaching I learned about at Hausner: Maimonides' ladder of Tzedakah. In particular, the 7th rung of the ladder, in which the giver and the receiver do not know who the other is. Hausner students learn about the importance of tikkun olam and tzedakah from kindergarten onward. I feel that my time as a student at Hausner imbued me with these qualities and ideals, and greatly influenced my decision to join the registry, and to not think twice about donating, even during the pandemic.
I’m extremely thankful to share that the recipient of my cells is not only doing well, but thriving. I was fortunate enough to meet him during my senior year of college, and he has become like family–literally, we now share 99.7% DNA! He has since been able to spend lots of time with his grandkids and playing guitar. In September, he will be attending his son’s wedding.
Every three minutes, someone in the US is diagnosed with blood cancer. A bone marrow or stem cell transplant may be their only chance at a cure. Because matching is so dependent on ethnic background, it is vital to improve the ethnic diversity of the registry. If you feel willing and able, or you want to learn more about supporting blood cancer research, please consider joining the registry: bethematch.com.