Stem cells, ready for transplant. Photo/ Amy Augustine Grappone
The bag in this photo is full of stem cells that, until a couple of weeks ago,were inside my friend Amanda’s body. That was before she donated them to her brother, Greg, who needed a bone marrow transplant to fight a tricky form of lymphoma.
I could tell you their story: How this isn’t Greg’s first experience with cancer, how he found out he’d need the transplant the day after his daughter was born, how his family is supporting cancer research and encouraging people to join the bone marrow registry. But really, it’s best if you just visit their blog, Counting up from Zero, because it’s impossible for me to describe all this better than they already are.
Greg’s wife, Amy, is a really fantastic woman, a journalist I worked with for many years at the Concord Monitor. (Friend’s brother married to former coworker? Yes, New Hampshire really is that small.) During Greg’s illness, she’s used Facebook, Instagram and now this blog to document their experiences in words and pictures, including the photo accompanying this post. The result is honest, unwavering and packed with the kind of information other transplant recipients will find useful.
Their blog has received thousands of hits since its launch earlier this month, and that’s no surprise. About 15,000 bone marrow and cord blood transfusions are performed in the U.S. each year. After the transplant, patients like Greg spend many months in near isolation while the donated cells rebuild the recipient’s immune system. It’s a mentally and physically tough time, and this blog will undoubtedly become a source of camaraderie for anyone in a similar situation.
Even those without a connection to Greg, Amy or anyone affected by this kind of transplant will find the blog a worthwhile read. It’s a testament to the power of family, community and science.
(Although Greg’s new cells came from his sister, many potential recipients don’t have family members who are able to donate compatible cells. In such cases, doctors try to find a match on a national registry of willing donors. Here’s Amanda’s description of what it was like to be a donor. And here’s some information to read if you’re considering joining the registry.)