Monday, October 19, 2009

Hello, Goodbye

2009 has been a year of losses. As my circle of friends affected by cancer widens, the death toll seems to be rising proportionately.

I won't list each friend by name, but they all had at least a half dozen things in common: access to the best cancer centers, doctors and treatments; a strong support network of family and friends; the proverbial positive attitude and a feisty determination to lead full, vibrant lives.

But sometimes that's not enough.

Take two recent deaths: Nick, whose aggressive cancer roared back right after a bone marrow transplant and Gahlit, a fellow blood cancer patient at the City of Hope.

My initial bond with Gahlit was based on a mutual admiration of our head coverings. The conversation soon turned from hats to healing, and before we knew it, we were exchanging email addresses and phone numbers. The emails flew back fast and furiously as we shared our life stories and discussed our hopes and fears.

I'll never forget when I visited this type-A dynamo right after her first donor stem cell transplant. She was simultaneously investigating health insurance options for her nanny, while buzzing the nurses about medication while she had a video conversation with her two-year-old daughter.

She relapsed three months later and underwent a second stem cell transplant with the same donor.

She rebounded and continued to live her life as she always did both BC and AC (before and after cancer) - with a vengeance.

When the cancer came back a third time, her friends all reminded her, "You're strong, you'll beat this again." But sometimes, in spite of the strength of Samson, cancer has its way. She died at home last Tuesday morning.

Gahlit's death, on the heels of Tony's and Nick's passings, and just a few months after the death of 28-year-old Michelle, has left me sad and weary. I was even beginning to develop a "Why bother?" attitude.

As luck would have it, I sat next to the West Coast director for Be the Match (formerly known as the National Bone Marrow Registry) at last night's benefit dinner for A3M. I told her about my despair from the recent deaths of a half dozen bone marrow transplantees. She reminded me that there are no guarantees, even after a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, but one thing is certain. Without a transplant, most patients have a zero chance of survival.

That's all I needed to hear to snap me out of my funk and to recommit myself to the efforts to find a match for patients like Krissy Kobata, a 27-year-old Hapa with a rare blood disorder.

Queen of the Mutts Krissy Kobata and Team Krissy at the 2009 Doo Dah Parade

What can you do?

  • If you're not already registered and you're a minority (Asian, African American, Native American or Latino) or multi-racial, you can order a FREE tissue typing kit online from A3M or check the site for a marrow drive near you.
  • You can also order a kit from Be the Match (formerly known as the National Bone Marrow Program) or check the site for a marrow drive near you.
  • If you're already registered, consider making a donation to A3M or Be the Match.
  • Encourage your family and friends to sign up and Be the Match.
  • If you live in Southern California, volunteer with me at an A3M bone marrow drive.
  • Organize a drive at your church, synagogue, club, school or other organization.


Ath said...

Just wanted to say that even though i don't post on your blog, i do read it occasionally. Your strength as a person is remarkable.

I'm honored to know you, even impersonally


Petrea said...

Good seeing you today, Susan. You're always so bright and lovely, I sometimes forget there's ever a struggle in your life.

pasadenapio said...

There is peace that comes from fond memories of friends and loved ones who have passed away. You honor them with this posting.

My friend Jan Curran is still hanging in there even though the prognosis is terminal. Her strength of spirit keeps her shining through, which is remarkable to witness.

Thanks for joining us yesterday!

janet said...

I'm so, so sorry. It must be very hard.

Ann said...

Susan, I'm so sorry for your losses. We've all made such great friends as a result of our cancer adventures and I hate that loss is a common thread that we share because of it. People like Nancy and you are doing so much to raise an awareness of marrow donation and the importance of getting registered. I'm humbled to count you both among my friends.

Trish said...

losses are hard, especially for those of us who have been thru some of these struggles a Dx brings. Part of it, I think is that when a friend dies, it brings the possibility of our health into question. Despite how positive and energetic you are, there is always that question out there...niggling.

I too am proud to know you and know you've added to my life and the lives of others. Despite the feeling like there is not a win with all these losses, you've turned it around and found some positives.

Keep up the good work!

Susan C said...

Thanks, everyone, for the support.

And, Nancy and Trish, I consider you two of the treasures.

ladyashely said... such a lovely and bright person.your a strength person...Elizabeth Wilcox

Elizabeth Wilcox

eda said...