Craig and I, as well as everyone who got to bear witness, were so overwhelmed by the outpouring of support at the stem cell donor drive held in my honor this weekend. Under the leadership of my mom's former colleague, Ginny, a tremendously giving (and organized) soul whom I hadn't seen since high school, the day went without a hitch.
There were so many friends who stepped up to volunteer, to organize auctions and raffles, a bake sale and "Team Karin" t-shirt and bracelet sales. Our friends and my mom's nursing friends were there volunteering to pack HLA testing kits, to help people get swabbed and to help them fill out health history forms. In fact, 156 new people were added to the National Bone Marrow Registry because of this event. We can only hope that that means many, many matches for those in need of a donor. Even those who are already on the registry, or unable to donate, were there in full support.
Elementary and high school friends, four of my elementary school teachers, family friends, Aunts, Uncles, and our Grandmas, my high school volleyball coach, boss, and attorney all showed up. Though delayed by extensive traffic, even my college roommate and her husband made the trek up from Virginia to show their support. And it wasn't just people that knew me, Craig, or our families. There were perfect strangers there as well, willing to step up and do a good thing for someone else.
I heard many stories of successful stem cell transplants and many pep talks and outpourings of faith and positivity that I will come out strong on the other side of this. And it was reinforced over and over how fortunate I am to have my beautiful sister (or "cell mate" as she's coined) to take this next step with.
Early in the day a man and woman in their early thirties came up to introduce themselves to me. The man was balancing a boy of about three years old on his hip who dug his face into his dad's shoulder when I waved and winked at him. His wife explained to me that this young dad also has Hodgkin Lymphoma, but that unlike me, he does not have the life-saving stem cell match that he needs.
He has been waiting for more than a year to get the chance at an allogeneic transplant – his last treatment hope. His face was ashen and sunken and you could tell that all the chemo and the anxiety had taken such a toll on this young family. He had relapsed four times and already had an autologous transplant which did not cure him. Despite all of this, they were there and were so appreciative that the event was being held and so happy to have so much awareness spread about the donor need.
They are now just continually trying different chemo regimens to keep the lymphoma at bay until a match can be found for this man. The woman's eyes welled as she told me that the doctors are running out of drug combinations and that they are at the "end of the rope." I had no words but to say to them that I will send them light and love every single day and that I hoped with all of my heart that his HLA match was there in that room. He looked back at me with beaten, sullen eyes, but I could see that he still had that deeply imbedded glimmer of hope. I'll never forget their faces.
It was moments like that which happened throughout the day that made me so appreciative that I was able to get myself there. No, I did not feel well. No, my counts hadn't recovered, but I wanted to be there to tell people in person how much it meant to me for them to register, to volunteer, to donate.
Flying on pure adrenalin from the kindness all around me, I would take a seat when the room started to spin and my knees started to get weak. I stuck as well as I could to the "no hugs/fist bumps only" policy, carrying my mini Purell bottle in hand for fear of contracting anything.
At one point I found myself alone on a chair. Probably the first time all day that I wasn't being shuffled from reminiscing with an old friend to meeting someone new to huddling with my family. The raffle prize and auction winners names were being called and as I watched the hundreds of donated prizes go into the hands of these generous people it just all took hold. My shoulders started to shake and my lips quivered uncontrollably until I couldn't hold the flood gates any longer. So much was being done to lift our burdens – financially, emotionally, spiritually.
I looked around at all the faces of those who had given up a beautiful summer Saturday to be on their feet – all day – on the unforgiving concrete floor of a firehouse simply because they care about us. The reality of that was just overwhelming ... a good overwhelming.
A huge thank you to everyone involved.