When I Thought I Had Run Out Of Options, A Donor Saved My Life

I was running out of options. I didn’t qualify for any clinical trials. I had maxed out on how much radiation I could have. I was almost out of chemotherapy options. And, I already had one failed autologous stem cell transplant (using my own stem cells). My last option was a full bone marrow transplant with a matched donor. If I’m being open and honest, relying on the kindness of my friends during treatment was difficult enough; now, I HAD to rely on the kindness of another person to save my life. Well, it was a lot to wrap my mind around.

The first person to get tested was my brother. He is my only sibling, and is a full sibling; he was barely a half-match. This meant my transplant coordinator would go to the national donor database. This meant my life would have to be saved by a stranger.

I had very few good matches. I had so few matches that my doctors were talking about going ahead and using my brother as my donor. But, out of the thousands (hundreds of thousands?!?) of people in the database, there was one person my team felt was a good enough match. To this day, I still cannot explain to people the biology involved that makes a COMPLETE STRANGER a better bone marrow match than my own brother.

A potential donor can say no at any point in the process. Even though she would disagree, to me, my donor had any number of reasons to say no. I mean, we would do anything to save the life of a loved one, or a friend, but many of us would take pause to consider saving the life of a stranger—someone we’ve never met and may never meet. A stranger in Ohio answered the call and donated her bone marrow to me in December 2013.

I love telling people that my donor, Amanda, is no longer a stranger. Amanda, her fiancée, her daughter, my husband, and I all met for the first time in 2015, just shy of one year from when she saved my life. Then, last summer, my husband and I drove to Ohio, where she lives, for her wedding. It was an incredible experience to be able to share in her day. I met her parents and had the opportunity to thank them for instilling a sense of helping others in their daughter.

Sometimes, I think I’m being dramatic when I say Amanda saved my life. And, bless her heart, I know I probably embarrass her because she’s always saying she didn’t do this for recognition. But, the truth is, and what I remind myself is, I had no other options. A matched unrelated donor transplant was my only shot at living, not just a cancer-free life, but actually living. I needed Amanda.

How do you thank someone who saved your life? The words "thank you" just don’t seem enough. I cannot be a blood or organ donor so I can’t pay it forward in that manner. My husband and I just try to enjoy life and live the best lives we can. I don’t want to waste this second chance Amanda gave me. Amanda and I, and our families, are forever connected, and I will be forever grateful for her.

Were you also saved by a donor? What's your story? Share in the comments below.