I’ll never forget the search coordinator’s first words after I picked up the phone: “Peter, are you sitting down?”

Well, I was at the time, but when she broke the news, I jumped out of my seat screaming and punching my fist in the air, then dissolved into tears and sobs. When I called my wife at work with the news, apparently she flung a book into the air, scoring a direct hit on a colleague’s head! Then she came running home …

Six months earlier, I’d had my annual exam with my family doctor, and the results were the same as they’d been every year: I was superfit and off-the-charts healthy. But when my blood labs came back the next day, they noticed my blood counts were “a little off.”

That led to several weeks of more tests, until finally I sat with my hematologist to learn the results. In a calm but direct voice, he told me that I had a dangerous form of leukemia. My world suddenly unraveled. I took a breath and asked about my outlook. I remember his words distinctly: “Well, you’re going to need a bone marrow transplant.” What he didn’t say in words, but tacked on with his body language and intonation and everything else, was the additional phrase “… in order to survive.” I heard it loud and clear.

We found a cancer hospital in Boston to perform the transplant. They told us they couldn’t proceed until they found a matching donor for me. They estimated the chances of that were 60 percent, based on my condition, age, ethnic ancestry and the number of registered donors in the pool. (I didn’t ask about the remaining 40 percent.) The donor search would take a few weeks at best, more likely a couple months, and possibly never. All we could do was wait.

Thus began our summer of anxiety. I canceled all my work gigs – going to chemotherapy became my new job. My wife suddenly had the burden of being our sole breadwinner. The economy was starting to crumble. My condition kept deteriorating, to the point where I could barely walk twenty feet without doubling over panting. But of all the stressors that summer, by far the worst was the uncertainty. Week after week, month after month. Waiting, hoping, fearing …

That September call changed everything. The coordinator told me they’d found “a perfect match,” and we could now move ahead with the transplant. After resigning myself that I’d had a pretty good 55 years, now I’d get a chance at a second chapter.

And here I am today, almost 11 years later. Forever changed, but still living as best I can. Writing, speaking and trying to give a little something back. With that in mind, a simple request: Please consider becoming a potential marrow donor. All it takes to register is a little cheek swab. You may end up saving a life, as my donor saved mine. Contact the organization Be The Match (bethematch.org) for more information. Thanks!

 

 

 


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