I cried when Miyah Telemaque-Nelson died. She was between my kids' age at the time; I couldn't imagine the pain that her family was going through.
Like most, I know Miyah's story because of John Wall. Their friendship was well-documented during Miyah's short life. John's outpouring of emotion after a Wizards win the day Miyah died in December of 2014 is one of the most poignant sports moments in recent memory.
John has used his celebrity to honor Miyah's legacy. He skipped a pre-season game in October to participate in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's "Light the Night" walk to raise awareness and funds for blood cancer research.
Like John, I've been given the opportunity to help in the fight against blood cancers. I want you to join me.
About four years ago, inspired by my friend Joe Robinson, I signed up for a national bone marrow registry by sending away for an expense-free kit, swabbing the inside of my cheek, and sending it back. Then I forgot about it.
That is, until late January, when I got an email from an organization called Delete Blood Cancer, alerting me that I was a match for a patient in need of a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. Whoa.
My subsequent call with an intake rep from Delete Blood Cancer brought on a wave of feelings -- excitement, exhilaration, fear, anxiety, pride, gratitude, humility, more anxiety, and guilt. I felt honored to be called upon to help someone in real need, scared what the procedure might involve and that I wasn't up to going through with it, guilty for my misgivings, and about a thousand other related thoughts within the span of a few minutes.
I've since had several conversations with the folks at Delete Blood Cancer to discuss the donation process. I had some initial blood work to confirm that I am indeed a match. This past week I had a full physical -- including an EKG, chest X-ray, and more blood work -- to confirm that I'm in sufficiently good health to donate. Everything checked out.
From talking to the folks at DBC, as well as my friend Joe, I have developed a pretty clear understanding of how this will all work. Essentially, in the days leading up to the procedure, I will be given a series of shots to stimulate the growth of extra stem cells in my bone marrow. As a result, I'll feel like I have the flu -- my muscles and bones will ache a lot; I'll be fatigued and lightheaded. On the day of the procedure, I'll be given a final injection and then have a needle put into each arm. One needle will remove my blood. It will go into a machine that "strains" out my stem cells, and the blood will then be returned to my other arm. This will go on for anywhere between four and eight hours. I'll be in a hospital bed, very lightly sedated to keep me chilled out. As soon as the procedure is done, a courier will take my stem cells and fly them directly to the recipient. I'll feel cruddy for a couple of days after the procedure and then start to feel better. Within a week or two, I'll be as good as new.
And so, as of this moment, it looks as if during the week of March 21, I will donate my stem cells to a woman in her 50's with acute myelogenous Leukemia (for privacy reasons, donors are asked to be careful about what details they share).
There are plenty of rational reasons to not want to do this. Between work and kids, I have trouble finding time to do the things I need to do, let alone the things I want to do. If I can't find time to get to yoga or take my wife to the movies, how do I have time for anything else?
And, the process will surely be some degree of unpleasant. I'm not great with unpleasant. I climb in bed with a man-cold and get anxious about illness generally. So making myself feel sick when I'm not actually sick isn't high on my list.
But, without knowing much about the recipient, I am positive that she is some combination of someone's daughter, wife, mother, sister, friend, mentor, and confidant. I have the ability to literally help her prolong and reboot her life - to another human being hope. That fact reframes everything else on my to-do list and every misgiving I might have about being uncomfortable for a little while.
I often think about my friends who lead lives of service -- cops, soldiers, teachers, public defenders, non-profit workers -- and feel guilty that I don't do enough to help others in need. This is my chance. This procedure is a last resort for the recipient. There's no guarantee that she will make it through the next few weeks to the procedure date, let alone that this will be enough to save her life. There's significant emotional weight for me in that. Which brings me to why I am writing this post and being public about something that I have some inclinations to be private about.
This woman is getting her chance at a new life somewhat because of me, but largely because my buddy inspired me to sign up for the registry in the first place. In turn, I'm trying to follow John's lead by sharing my experience in order to help others.
One of the things I love about basketball -- particularly the NBA - is that it brings together people who may not readily see how much common ground they share. When I attend Wizards games, I always notice a rainbow of skin tones and hear several languages spoken in the stands. That's why I'm sharing this here - BulletsForever's readership is more diverse than my Facebook feed.
If we use the power of our networks to build up this registry, we can stop losing lives to blood cancers. So please register, and please share this message with others in your network. And spread the word that the registry desperately needs donors from diverse racial backgrounds (the medical reason for this is explained better here than I could ever explain it), particularly donors who are African-American, Asian, and Latino.
John Wall helped give a face to blood cancer - Miyah's sweet, beautiful face. Help me honor her memory. Join the registry. One day it may end up saving the life of someone you hold dear.