So much of how I view the world has to do with how to be a good person; what does that even mean? A few things come to mind. Having a set of values and priorities that are in line with helping the world. Living and taking actions that are in harmony with those values. Being kind to those dearest to us and also to those whose paths we cross only here and there. Sometimes it’s the small things we do. Sometimes it’s the Big Gestures of Kindness.
I think about this as I contemplate receiving a bone marrow transplant sometime in the coming months. After the first round of chemo, there is inspiring evidence that therapy is effective. It will be some weeks before we know results from this second round which informs our next steps. I may have a third round of treatment because research shows zero leukemia cells in the marrow is better than any leukemia cells in the marrow with regard to long-term successful transplants. Enduring hardship now with further confidence going ahead is probably the right road. While I hit some bumps along the way, it is not that many and none of the really gnarly ones. In other words, I tolerate treatment well enough—hallelujah! It will be intense times leading up to transplant where I am knocked further to a semblance of smithereens, which I am conveniently and appropriately not thinking about. As you know by now, I work to stay in this moment!
But one thing gives me extensive pause.
I have thirty perfect matches for a bone marrow transplant. Considering I only need one, this is a remarkable number and excellent news. Of course, we need to find the right person within that group who is still willing and able, and hopefully under forty. The transplant team at MGH is working on this complex process as I write. The abundant number of potential donors is likely due to the fact that I have Latvian/German peasant stock genes and apparently there are a lot of us out there! And organizations run bone marrow registries all the time. Being a bone marrow donor is not as arduous as say, donating a kidney, though it’s certainly a medical process to go through. Maybe you’ve done the quick cheek swab to become part of that registry?
As I fall further into debt, I am humbled by the kindness of people willing to offer their blood, their cells, and in other settings, their organs, to provide essential healing and help for a person they do not even know. In Judaism this is one of the highest levels of tzedakah or charity. The only one higher is working to prevent a person or community from needing charity in the first place, hard to imagine what that would look like in my specific instance! That said, I know and appreciate that so many of you are daily involved with family, work, volunteerism, and a range of other efforts that aid others, that help the earth, that prioritize social justice, all reflecting deep roots in the soil of kindness.
I take in several units of blood and platelets while at MGH this week where I am readmitted due to a fever, and each time, as the holy good stuff flows through my veins, I thank all the open-hearted individuals, the healing power of nature, and advances in sciences that have brought us to this time. I tuck in a prayer of gratefulness to the people I will never know who think about it, make a plan, and take time to donate blood and blood products. Call your local Red Cross or local hospital to see where you can donate if you are eligible.
I feel better each day as I emerge from my blood count nadirs, a bit like crawling up a steep embankment with less-than-ideal footing, but back to the land of the living. When I am feeling poorly, even though I am an extremely social animal by nature, I involute like a small snail. There is no energy to connect. It can be hard to remember I’m strong and healthy and resilient. I apologize for not answering my phone or responding to your emails or texting back, and especially for adding to your pile of worry! And then as if nothing happened, I feel like I’m back, re-emerging to a pretty close version of my usual self.
Your emails, texts, cards, positive thoughts, and prayers are an ongoing source of support for Paul and I. Especially at low points, I dip into your words, your memories, your appreciations, your wishes, or I just visualize or look around my cozy kitchen where your hundreds of cards are put up with tiny clothespins on ribbons around the windows, and walls. Your Big Gestures of Kindness and your positivity and love help these formidable medicines go down easier, and in some rendition of magical alchemy, I am pretty confident make them work better, too. Each morning when I go through a loving kindness meditation, my gratitude goes to you, which I hope you feel. Letting that flow through me is its own medical specialty.
May we all find ways to do the big and small actions to help those we love and those we don’t yet know, to bring about a healthier, kinder, more just and loving world.
With love & light from Fifty-Five Fruit Street,
#leukemia #tikkunolam #donateblood #gratitude #thriver #survivor #lovemakesafamily #kindnessofstrangers