On the day after my blood and marrow transplantation (BMT) at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in March 2016, I wrote a thank-you card to my donor. “Dear donor…. With sincerest thanks, Recipient.”
The rule at Roswell Park is that all communication between donor and recipient during the first year is censored and edited for anonymity so that neither party feels responsible or guilty should something go wrong.
All I knew about my donor was that he was a 32-year-old American male.
It took a couple of months after my BMT to receive a response to our card. We had been released from the hospital and were staying at the Kevin Guest House BMT apartment when the donor’s cards arrived. The first card was from my donor and his wife – they were pleased about receiving our thank-you card. The second card was from their youngest daughter. She was very proud of her father and mentioned what a great dad she had!
When my wife, Ola, read the cards to whoever visited, everyone cried (including us). From the moment we read their cards, my hope was to meet my donor.
There were a few more communications, including small Christmas gifts. At my one-year BMT anniversary, we officially requested approval through Roswell Park to communicate directly with my donor. To my delight, I received an email from him on Good Friday telling me about himself. And — surprise! — he and his family lived in Michigan, only four hours away from us!
We started emailing each other and shared info about ourselves – hobbies, interests and so forth. We quickly jumped to setting up a meeting. We picked Niagara Falls, Ontario, because it was my hometown, and Memorial Day weekend was coming around the corner. It was a great place for a small holiday for his family (with three kids) to see Niagara Falls. And who better to provide a guided tour than me?!
Unfortunately, a few days before our meeting, I was struck with an attack of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). I spent that Friday in the emergency room. I was afraid we’d have to cancel our meeting and reschedule for another date. With my donor Paul’s background as a volunteer firefighter, the whole family knew how to deal with the unexpected. So we changed our plans on the fly and met in London, Ontario.
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On Saturday morning at noon, my doorbell rang. I didn’t know how I was going to react and what to expect. When I opened my front door and saw Paul standing there with his family behind him, the emotion was overwhelming. The floodgates opened and the tears just poured! All I could do was hug him tightly and simply say, “Thank you.”
Paul is everything one could hope for in a donor. He is strong, generous, kind, giving, and a grounded individual. His wife and children are so proud of him. For my wife and me, the memory of our meeting will last forever.
What an unselfish act of giving stem cells to save a life. It tells you so much about this individual. Words do not explain the importance of this man’s act!
I hope that we stay linked forever!
He is truly my “cell mate!”
P.S. PLEASE, PLEASE register and donate to potentially save a life!
Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.