So for the past few weeks I have noticed (with a smile) that The National Bone Marrow Donor Registry, now known under the Be The Match Campaign, popping up on my facebook, my newspaper, and my television. Robin Roberts, her brave public battle against myelodysplastic syndrome, and her treatment plan of a bone marrow transplant, all brought a shining spotlight onto the Be The Match campaign – something that I have desperately been trying to do for years now. And while many of you have heard me say that I AM registered as a bone marrow (and organ) donor and that I DO support this phenomenal campaign, I think few of you know just how invested I am in this organization and why. I hope that by the end of this post you will not only understand WHY I believe in this with such conviction, but that it could possibly convince you to register yourself!
Let me start by repeating that my childhood was idyllic. My extended family, both my mother and fathers sides, lived relatively close to one another and we grew up spending weekends skiing together, holiday’s at the grandparents farm, and vacations at our house on Martha’s Vineyard. Unfortunately this amazing unit of a family, “the Murphys”, took a sudden blow when my Uncle Doug was abruptly diagnosed with CML: Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. Not only was my Uncle Doug the comedian of the family and the life of the party, he was also “healthy”. A fitness guru, he was the one who sang through the house at 6 am in his long underwear to rouse us all from our slumber in order to hit the slopes before the “good powder” was gone. He was who made us take bike rides as a unit to the shores of Lake Erie. And he was the one that pressed us all for excellence in every endeavor that we approached! He dove into his treatment of chemo, radiation, and an eventual bone marrow transplant with such enthusiasm and strength that I don’t think that anyone ever doubted his success in his battle. My entire family was swabbed to see if any of us were a match to my Uncle, desperate to help him in the only frangible way possible. This was at a time when the donation would have been performed through a painful tap, and yet this deterred none of us in our goal of having my uncle back to his jovial self. If it took giving him a limb, an organ, or simply the marrow from our hip, what had to be done would be done. Unfortunately none of us matched him and it was left to the National Donor Registry to find him a match. Luckily for us, some stranger with no knowledge of the awesomeness that was my Uncle had gone out on his/her own and been swabbed and was A MATCH! We prayed that this transplant would work so that no more poison would have to be drained into his veins, we prayed that he would be cured and that our family would be restored back to its original blissful state, and we prayed that he would be relieved of the pain and angst that cancer causes. But to our dismay, the bone marrow transplant did not work, and with no other options, my family had to say good bye to my Uncle Doug on April 10th, 1996, leaving a broken and battered unit of a family that had once been so intact.
11 years later, after a few more setbacks and hurdles as a family, my father attended a Buffalo Bills game and was alarmed at how labored his breathing became while climbing the stairs to his seats. He scheduled an appointment with his general physician, and being a surgeon himself, asked the doctor to perform a few blood tests. Within hours, the tests came back with results that none of us could have expected: he had Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. We were shocked. There was no genetic connection, this was my mother’s brother who had died years ago, and her husband that was facing the rocky road ahead. The next few months were a whirlwind. We were moved to the same city, were placed in the same hospital, and put under the care of the same oncogolist as my Uncle had been 11 years prior. A piece of artwork hung outside of my fathers hospital room with a small plaque underneath it that said “In Memory of James Douglas Murphy.” It was eerie, it was ludicrous, but after a few long deep breaths, we threw ourselves into his treatment just as we had 11 years prior. Research had made some major advances since my Uncles journey, and we were approached with the idea of a Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplant where healthy stem cells were taken from his own body, grown and morphed, and then put back into him as his own personal bone marrow transplant. He had the treatment done in January and was in remission by February! It was a miracle! For the next two months we smiled, we laughed, we played, and we LIVED. But by May the cancer had come back and we were back in the hospital. None of us children matched him, and my father had been adopted, so no other known blood relatives existed. He was not matching anyone in the Donor Registry, and we were left with only one more option. The doctors performed an Umbilical Stem Cell Transplant, where stem cells from the umbilicus, which are much more undifferentiated and developed than adult stem cells and were easier to mutate and morph into the nutrient rich material that we needed to save him. Unfortunately, this transplant failed from the start. We were left in the hands of the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry, awaiting for a stranger to find it in themselves to be swabbed, so that our father could live. No such stranger came forward, and we lost my dad on September 5th, 2008.
The National Bone Marrow Registry, or the Be The Match Campaign, is an amazing organization, but one that few know about as well as one that has too many misconceptions:
- Did you know that the majority of bone marrow donations are now done through Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Retrieval, which is similar to a platelet donation? It is relatively painless, takes only a few hours of your day, AND is an “outpatient” procedure.
- Did you know that every 4 minutes, someone is diagnosed with blood cancer, a disease that can be CURED by YOU.
- Did you know that you do not have to pay for a cent of the registry, donation, or recovery?
- Did you know that people of any ethnicity are harder to match because there are so few people of ethnicity in the registry?
- Did you know that in order to be on the registry to save someone’s life, you just have to go here
Or to learn more about the people that you are potentially saving, and their diseases, go here:
Please sign up and BECOME THE MATCH. There are very few moments that us mere mortals get to put on our Superman capes and save lives, and this is one of those moments. Do it for yourself, do it for me, or do it for that stranger that is sitting in the hospital fighting for their lives and uncertain about their future as it could be laying in YOUR hands.