Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Dear Donor


Dear Donor,

I have tried to mentally compose what I would say to you if this day ever came.  In fact, once, only a few weeks ago, I sat down at the computer to start putting those thoughts into words.  And then I stopped myself.  Although my husband was doing well, it felt as if writing a letter that can only be sent after someone reaches the one year milestone, might be tempting fate.

Although, honestly, I don’t know that I believe in fate. 

What I do believe in?   God.   Prayers.   Mercy.   Miracles.  And the unbelievable selflessness that was shown to us by a stranger- you.

Two years ago, my husband started feeling more tired than usual and blamed it on a cold that he couldn’t get rid of.  He was a self-employed fence builder and worked as a contract laborer building pipe fence around power substations.  It was hot outside and he was welding.  We blamed his fatigue on that, but this was my husband, and we should have known better.

*****

You see, my husband has always been a bit super human and had survived both a bull-riding accident that severed his liver, as well as a tractor flipping over on top of him, breaking his leg.  He was the hardest worker I had ever known and solid muscle.  He rose before 5 a.m. to leave for work and many nights, didn’t come home from work until after 8.  Dedication to his family was a priority, as was providing for them. 

In fact, this is what he was known for, aside from his handlebar mustache - being a hard worker and being an AMAZING father.

*****

On September 5, 2014 we found out that it wasn’t a cold.  Or his heart.  Or mono.  No, my husband, the definition of health, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia-AML.  In one moment, our world crashed down around us.  I remember telling the kids that their daddy had leukemia and our son, 9 years old at the time, said “That’s CANCER!”  The fear in his voice only mirrored the fear in our hearts.

Shortly after his diagnosis it became obvious that he would need a stem cell transplant to have any chance at survival.  My husband and I traveled three hours from home and stayed there for four months, separated from our children, while he received treatment and his first transplant.  The first transplant was a blessing in more ways than one.  The stem cells were from his brother, from which he had been estranged.  The two siblings were brought back together.

Yet, despite the blessings, five months later my husband relapsed.

In an effort to get him back into remission he underwent intensive chemo once again, and this time you could see the devastation his body was enduring.  Throughout his prior hospitalizations and transplants, he would get up every day, put his clothes on and treat it as any other day…determined that it would be.  However, after his relapse, his body just wasn’t able to do that.  My husband, previously 165 lbs., weighed in at 113 lbs.  The super human before me looked like anything but.  And, for the first time, even he doubted that he could make it through this horrible disease.  Although we were never without hope, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that hope had started to fade somewhat.  

When the doctors started looking for another donor in May 2015, after his relapse, we found that the only 10/10 match could not be located.  They started looking at the possibility of having to go with donor that wasn’t a perfect match, but were hesitant to do so.  In the meantime, my husband underwent more chemo, closer to home, in an effort to prevent the leukemia from getting worse.

About the same time that we found out that the chemo had been successful in almost completely eliminating any trace of the mutated gene that caused his cancer, which was unexpected, we also were told that a 10/10 match was located.  YOU. 

*****

Last year, when everyone else was thinking about celebrating Labor Day, you were getting ready to be a miracle worker.  A potential life saver.

As we prepared to travel the three hours back to the hospital to begin treatment to prepare my husband’s body for transplant, our hometown, who had rose up in support of our family, was reminded to pray for you, the donor, during this process. 

I hope you felt those prayers that day, and every day since.

You have changed my life and I didn’t have cancer.  Both of my children are changed forever, and they didn’t have cancer.  And, it goes without saying, my husband was changed physically, and emotionally, because of you and he DID have cancer.

But he doesn’t today.  Thanks to you.

You have allowed my family 365+ more days as a family of four that we wouldn’t have had without you.  You have caused our eyes and heart to be opened to the selflessness of strangers around us.  You have made this big world, smaller, and reminded our family how we are ALL deeply connected.

This year, the year that my husband wouldn’t have had without your gift, we have gone on a family vacation to Gulf Shores. He was able to spend summer break with his children. Because of you, we have had more time to laugh together, play together and love together.  My husband has been able to go and watch our kid’s baseball, volleyball and basketball games.  He has been able to enjoy the farm and family he had worked his whole life for.  My children and I have been able to see his physical body recover, and because of your gift, I hope that their mind can erase the image of their daddy when he was so ill.  You have allowed us a year to fully appreciate the outpouring of love, support and kindness that has been shown to us, and you have given us hope that one day, we will be able to repay it all. 

You have allowed others, through our experience, to better appreciate the gift of life.  You have given us hope that this story we have shared might have a happy ending.  You have given others hope, through my husband.  You have motivated others to register to become donors because you so selflessly were.

In short, YOU have changed the world.

It might sound too grandiose to be believed.  I will be the first to admit that we live in a small town that most have never heard of, and in comparison to others, our “world” is pretty small.  That being said, the world is changed one person at a time and YOU have changed many, many people.  Yes, the actions of a person that we have never met have altered multiple lives.  Family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances and people that have joined us on this journey have ALL been changed by YOU, through your gift to my husband.

My heart is full and I know I am failing at adequately conveying what my family wishes to say.  “Thank you” is not sufficient.  In fact, I don’t know any word in the English language that is.  Whatever your life holds, know that you have already made an impact that many will never have the chance to make.  You are, in every sense of the word, a hero.  Mine.  My children’s.  And, of course, my husband’s.

*****

There are so many times that our family has mentioned you in conversation.  Whether it was because my husband, after 42 years, suddenly developed a liking to Chinese food, or because of some new interest he picked up… you, the donor, are brought up, wondering if we can in fact, attribute these new qualities to you.  We wonder if there are physical or characteristic similarities.  We contemplate whether or not you share his amazing (yet sometimes maddening) sense of humor.  We think about the circumstances that prompted you to register as a donor.  And the kids and I wonder if you know what an amazing man you saved and what an amazing man you are.

I hope you do.

I pray you do.

There just aren’t words enough to express it…so I will just end it with:

With humbling and inexpressible gratitude,

Your recipient’s wife

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