Transplant 101

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By Cristina Rodriguez

Cristinawhubbytransplant1.jpgI'm a 30-year-old non-Hodgkin's lymphoma fighter. It's not all that I am, but it's all I'm focused on at the moment. The purpose of my blog, lymphomamaniac, is manifold.

I want to record this experience, not just for myself, but for anyone who can relate to or learn from my experience. I want to let people know that cancer can be funny and cancer is not politically correct. Why should I care about cancer's feelings? Cancer sucks and I'm going to kick its butt. 

"Intro to Stem Cell Transplant." That was the name of the class I took a couple of weeks ago at MD Anderson. This optional class made me think harder about it than anything since I started my battle against non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"Why them and not me?"

I know that sounds weird being that I'm going through a cancer battle, but let me explain.

This class was for stem cell transplant candidates and their caregivers to learn what to expect and how to prepare for the inescapable leave of absence from their homes. We got information on what a stem cell transplant is, the types of transplants, health risks and on and on.
I was alone in this class and that fact was not lost on me. It wasn't anybody's fault. My father was waiting in the lobby, since English is not his forte, and my husband was stuck working for the medical insurance I still so desperately need. 

In hindsight, I think it was better that I was alone. It allowed me to really listen to the plight of the people around me. Yes, my plight is dire but, believe it or not, some of my peers that day in that room have it much worse.

Autologous vs. allogeneic

Since I first let people know about my upcoming stem cell transplant, I've been asked many times if I need donors and I received many offers to donate. 

I feel so lucky to have people around me who would literally give a part of themselves for me and I feel lucky because I don't need one. 

The stem cells I'll be receiving will be from my own blood. The transplant I'll be having is called an autologous transplant.

In short, I'll get hooked up to an apheresis machine (which resembles a dialysis machine) that will filter the stem cells from my blood and then freeze the cells. After a high-dose chemo session to stop bone marrow production, those cells will then be placed back into my bloodstream with the hope that they will find their way back to the bone marrow and start to reproduce normally.

Need the match

That day in class, the instructor asked us to raise our hands if we were having an auto transplant and only about half of us did so. The rest were planning to have a donor transplant.

That was the moment I found myself asking the question: "Why them and not me?"

It then became apparent, as the class wore on, that the chances of finding a donor in the National Bone Marrow Registry or Be The Match are bleak. I almost lost it as this horrible truth reared its ugly head right in my face.

I couldn't imagine the stress that I'd already been experiencing only to be made worse by hoping for a donor, hoping to find that one perfect match that could save my life.

Cristinahospitaltransplant.jpgThe challenge
I left that day with mixed feelings -- relief at the fact that I don't need a donor and sorrow for those who do. I was also angry at the fact that half of the patients won't find their perfect match.  But most of all, I felt I had to do something. 

After perusing Be The, it was clear.
If people were asking me if I needed a donor, why not have them make good on that offer and become a donor on the national registry? Why not try to get more people added to that list? 

As soon as I got back into town, I sat my husband down and told him about the people I'd met and how lucky we were that I didn't need a donor. 

He immediately asked what he needed to do to be put on the national donor registry. Needless to say, I was overjoyed. Whether he gets a match or not, it's enough to know that he's willing to save a stranger's life. He put it best, "If it were you, I'd want someone to save your life."

After this conversation, I knew I could do more.
If my husband would donate in my honor, how many others would do it, too? After all, I could have very easily fallen into this category of needing a donor transplant. That could have been me. 

It could be you
I'll take it a step further. You reading this now, yes you, it could be you. It could be your spouse, child, parent, best friend or neighbor. Cancer knows no bounds and has no respect for those we hold dearest. 

Also, if you're a minority such as Hispanic, African-American, Asian, Indian or Pacific Islander, your chances of finding a match have just been cut down again. This Mexican-American, right here, would be there with you.

There aren't enough registry members of diverse racial and ethnic heritage, so adding more diverse members increases the likelihood that all patients will find a life-saving match.

I challenge you to save a life. 

Get your name added to the national bone marrow registry today. Don't wait.  Save a life in your lifetime. Why not? What do you have to lose besides a few replenishable cells?

Visit Be The Match and see just how simple the process really is.

Read more posts by Cristina Rodriguez

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