Monday, March 6, 2017

Free Printable Fill-in-the-Blank Thank-Yous for Kids

I'm still a stickler for hand-written thank you notes {although I must admit I'm currently averaging an embarrassingly long lag-time between whatever event we've celebrated and the actual mailing of the thank-you... sorry, Emily Post!}... and now that L can write her alphabet, I'm continuing the time honored tradition of nagging my offspring to write her own! 

At Christmas, she drew each of her benefactors a picture and then wrote the entire note {Dear XYZ, Thank you for the ABC! Love, L-------}.  While adorable, it took about six weeks to complete 8 notes, and with 26 gifts for which to express thanks, I was looking for a much speedier solution for her birthday party aftermath.

Enter these cute, easy {FREE} Mad Libs style printables from Petite Lemon! I slapped a ton on some green cardstock we already had {white would be sharper, but, alas, I care not}, filled in the gift and an extra thank you message, and L wrote the name of the recipient, selected a few adjectives, and signed her name at the bottom. It was the perfect amount of writing for a newly-minted 5 year old -- enough to signify some good effort but not too much that the undertaking became overwhelming or painful.

Are you still rocking your thank-yous old-school?  Do you torture your kids with the task, too?

Monday, February 27, 2017

a super 5th birthday party!

Our very own Super Girl enjoyed a fast, furious, and fabulous fifth birthday fete last weekend! We've been heavy into super heroes since Halloween, and this was such a fun (and EASY) party to put together -- I thought I'd share a few details in case you've got your own caped crusader to celebrate!

For the fourth year in a row, we decided to hold our breath and cross every available appendage and plan to host our friends and family outdoors... I distinctly remember having panic attacks about the weather report last year and promptly putting a Post-It in my planner to-be-read at the beginning of December 2016 with the direction "indoor options for L's birthday?" scrawled on it... and then promptly sticking my head in the sand when I came across it after Thanksgiving.  Who wants to call trampoline parks when there are cookies to frost and clients with contentious holiday custody schedules to fret over {'TIS THE SEASON}?! 

Thankfully, the weather gods blessed us once again, and it was a glorious day for bouncing and sports-courting!  We used Austin Moonwalks for the second year in a row, and I can't recommend them enough! You pay for 4 hours, but both years they've set up around 11 am and held off on pick-up until 7 pm or so.  Your kids will be tired for days. We also pulled out our mini bounce house for the tiny tots -- what an excellent investment that sucker has been!

We also pinned-the-star on Wonder Woman's belt {an eleventh hour sketch project that turned out pretty damn good, if I do say so myself!} and had a special visitor from Gotham!  It pays to have a best friend whose father masquerades as Batman!  Two decades ago, C and I were concocting illicit margaritas in a secret blender in her bathroom, hiding the noise from her parentals with blasts from a hair dryer... and now Mr. S dons 30 pounds of latex to make my kiddos smile.  It's all come full circle! {Actually that blender story is apropos of nothing; I just continue to be completely tickled by it -- what knuckleheads we were.}  Batman was seriously the biggest hit of all time -- all future birthday parties are destined to be abject disappointments.  Sorry you peaked at 5, kid!

Originally, I'd thought we could have a little "make your own mask" station, and the resulting artistic treasures could serve as party favors.  While hunting for felt masks in bulk on the cheap, I stumbled across the deal of a lifetime -- hero capes of all varieties, direct from China for $2.39 a pop {free shipping}.  There is an option to buy the corresponding masks for a total of $2.99 per set, but I ordered just the capes, figuring we'd still do the mask craft... only for my capes to arrive with masks! International eBay orders always seem like a gamble, but this one really paid off. The capes + masks were adorable and quite well made, considering the epically inexpensive price tag. The shipping time for us was super quick -- I had the sets in hand within a week -- but be warned the window for delivery is up to a month.  For the festivities, I fashioned a clothesline out of a dollar store tablecloth and painter's tape and had each kid pick a set upon arrival... We had a backyard full of Marvel (wo)men and Justice Leaguers in no time flat!

The rest of the d├ęcor was Amazon-Primed the Monday prior to the party {Super Hero Jumbo Word Cutouts; Cupcake Picks + Liners; Happy Birthday Cake Sign} or pulled from our collection of toy figurines / party supplies {that balloon wreath is on it's 4th year of fun and was the easiest thing in the world to make with floral picks}.  HEB was kind enough to bake the cake {ELITE FROSTING 4-LYFE}, and I did make the dirt cake cups for the 3rd year in a row {L called them "Wonder Cups" which just made me think of bra shopping, but, hey, it's her birthday} -- these continue to be the most popular hostessing decision I've ever made.

3rd literal costume change of the day
It was the perfect celebration for our big FIVE year old!  I really cannot believe she's five... Five is like a real kid! What an extreme joy she is -- I never want to forget how big and how little she seems all at the same time.  She can play independently for hours and will create elaborate scenarios involving dozens of toys and moving parts; if she isn't running a constant narration on these adventures, she's singing {LOUDLY}.  She can write all of her letters and spent 3 weeks scribing individual thank you notes after Christmas. She adores school and is sad when she doesn't get to go on the weekend; Extended Day days are her favorite days {this only makes me a tiny bit sad -- mostly just excited how much she adores learning, her buddies, and her teachers!}.  She still loves Frozen and Doc McStuffins and playing doctor, but is also super into Moana and the Chuggington and Thomas trains.  She is obsessed with the name "Sarah." She loves drawing and crafts and creating "art schools" for her animals and babies. She is currently perfecting her "couch cannonball."  She chose tee-ball over soccer for the Spring. Her favorite foods are pepperoni pizza, sausage, apples, hummus & pimento cheese {with a spoon}, and hamburgers. She prefers rainbow sprinkles on her chocolate "froyoyo." She likes her hair "plain" {no bows or ponytails or clips}. She's been practicing the monkey bars almost daily for over a year. She continues to love books, and we're having a blast exploring some chapter books together {the Princess in Black series, Charlotte's Web, the Ramona books}.  She has a 75/25 Love/Hate relationship with her brother who she lives to boss around.  She wants to be Angelica Schuyler on Broadway when she grows up. She feels deeply, has a very strong sense of fairness, and asks a million questions a day. It is a privilege to witness her explore and figure out the wide wild.

{E and I also celebrated birthdays earlier this month.  We had fun.  And took some photos...}

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Anonymous PBSC (Peripheral Blood Stem Cell) Bone Marrow Donation via Be The Match

If we are IG and/or Snapchat buds, you've likely been inundated with my copious after-school-special PSA stories / snaps about my experience as an anonymous bone marrow donor through the Be The Match Registry. If you're at all interested in the anonymous marrow donation process and are hankering for an honest donor testimony, you've come to the right place! {And, if you found my updates highly obnoxious or smug, hold onto your butts, because I'm not done yet.}


Registering with Be The Match

I first registered with Be The Match in 2004.  On September 11, 2001, I was a college freshman, just 3 weeks into my first year at Wake Forest. Surrounded by strangers and feeling helpless, I started donating blood monthly at the American Red Cross.  I soon discovered whole blood donation made me feel like complete ass {I have low iron}, but I could donate platelets through apheresis {whole blood is taken out from a needle in one arm, spun through a centrifuge to separate platelets from the rest of your blood, platelets are collected, and the rest of your blood is returned through a needle in your other arm} with no issues.  Needles don't bother me so being hooked up to the machine for an hour was no big deal and I could donate more often. Through my involvement with the American Red Cross, I helped with a bone marrow registry drive on campus my junior year.

how marrow donation works_960x540px_v2.jpg

Back then, registering required a blood sample.  Now, anyone who is interested can order an at-home cheek swab through For registrants ages 18-44, the process is free of charge.  Interested persons between 44 and 60 years of age are welcome to register but will be asked to make a $100 donation.

Once you've registered, you wait! Just remember to update the registry whenever your contact information changes so you can be reached quickly if you are preliminarily matched!

The Preliminary Match

I sat on the registry for 10 years before I heard anything from Be The Match.  In June of 2014, I was contacted as a potential match for a woman in her 60s living in the United States who was battling Acute Myeloid Leukemia {the patient's age, sex, specific blood cancer and whether s/he is domestic or international are the only pieces of information a donor receives about the recipient at the outset}. After confirming I was still interested in being a marrow donor, I was sent for a blood screen to determine if I was the best match for the patient {the registry often pulls up multiple potential matches for a particular patient; the transplant surgeon will ultimately determine who is the very best bet for donation after reviewing the blood screens}.  The blood screen occurred very quickly after the first call -- within the week. I also completed a super, super thorough phone interview regarding my health {get ready to answer A LOT of questions about your sexual history}. My coordinator also reviewed the two processes by which donation occurs {more on that later} and asked if I would be okay with either the PBSC donation or the traditional hip aspiration. While most people think of the hip aspiration when they think about marrow donation, the PBSC is actually more common by far nowadays {the aspiration is normally only requested for recipients under the age of 19 because the cells collected are more immature and align more perfectly with a child's biology}.  PBSC requires 5 days worth of filgrastim injections {again, more on that later} to mass produce white blood cells.  This is not a medication that can be taken when you are nursing, which I was at the time.  I was honest and told my coordinator I wasn't entirely sure I'd be willing to give up nursing {B was only 3 months old} at that point, but we decided to wait and see what the results of the screen were before crossing me out as a potential donor.

I was told the timeframe for the recipient's doctor to make a decision on the bloodwork would be anywhere between 30 and 60 days.  A month after my blood test, I was informed that I actually was the best match for the patient, but that the patient had decided not to go forward with the treatment. Potential donors are not given a concrete reason for why a patient makes this decision.  I still think about this woman and hope against hope she made a miraculous recovery thus negating the need for a transfer.

So, I went back on the registry and waited.  Two years to practically the day in June 2016, I received another call -- this time asking if I'd be willing to donate to a 59 year old man living in the States, also suffering from AML. I went through the exact same process again -- the long health interview {now with Zika and Ebola inquiries!} + the bloodwork.  About a month later, same result -- I was the best match for the patient, but he had decided not to pursue treatment.  I have no clue how this scenario stands in the odds game {but here's a general registry numbers breakdown for you, if you're interested}, but I definitely had a ton of mixed emotions after that second "rejection" call -- mostly, I just felt deeply for the patient, knowing what a horrible disease AML is and understanding that declining treatment usually doesn't happen for happy, healthy reasons.

Surprise! The Next Steps in Donation

To my dismay, my coordinator {coordinators are regional -- mine is located in Dallas} called me right before Christmas and said the patient I'd been matched with in June had a change in situation and was ready to attempt transfer!  At the time, I was 100% excited -- so happy this man still had a chance at treatment and so humbled to be able to be a part of that process for him.  During that same call, my coordinator told me the transplant surgeon was asking for PBSC donation.  {If you'd like to read about the alternative: hip aspiration, here's some info.}

Time Out: Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) Donation:

The exact same cells found in bone marrow are also floating around in your blood like an immuno-charged lazy river.  PBSCs are collected through apheresis just like platelets -- whole blood comes out of one arm, PBSCs are separated in a centrifuge, the rest of your blood is injected back into the other arm... except this is platelet donation on crack.  Donors take a medication called filgrastim 4 days prior to the procedure as well as one last done the morning of; filgrastim stimulates your bones to mass produce white blood cells. The procedure itself can take up to 8 hours.  It might completed in one day or require an additional day of collection. Any bumps in the road can require a central line {yep, more on that later, too} or changing course to the hip aspiration.  Any procedure for the donor has to be perfectly timed with the recipient, who is taking massive doses of chemo in order to completely wipe out the entirety of his/her immune system.

Time In: My coordinator informed me the transplant team was aiming for a transfer date of February 6th or 13th.  Since my birthday is the 13th, we signed on for the 6th.  She FedExed me a massive stack of information and consent forms and gave me 3 weeks to look everything over before our big phone interview walking through all of the worst-case scenarios. Up to this point, I'd watched a bunch of donor testimonies and knew generally what to expect, but I hadn't done a ton of research on filgrastim. I knew most donors experienced bone aches, headaches, and very mild flu-like symptoms that disappeared very soon after donation. I wasn't aware that the most common {but still very uncommon} side effect is spleen enlargement / rupture... so I definitely asked a bunch of questions about that {my coordinator said they've never had a donor with a spleen rupture} and had a doctor friend assure me my spleen isn't actually terribly important.  Dosing healthy PBSC donors with filgrastim is an off-market use of the drug which was not all that concerning to me at this point in the process, but really bothered E. He was very much in the pragmatic "what if you take this drug while trying to do something good for someone else but end up with cancer yourself in 5 years because of it?" camp. I'll be completely honest -- I totally {and unfairly} dismissed his concerns.  I really never considered not donating, despite any risk, real or imagined.  I do wish we'd done more independent research together, because I definitely signed all those scary consent forms {and the very-worst-case-scenario life insurance policy} unilaterally without giving any pause to my loved ones' uncertainties.

Time Out: Long-Term Side Effects of Filgrastim:

Had we really delved deeply into research on filgrastim at this juncture, we wouldn't have found a ton of information on long-term side effects of taking the drug as a young, healthy PBSC donor. Filgrastim has been used for this purpose since 1999, and there is an ongoing study {that I am participating in}, but it won't be complete until 2022.  Currently, experts seem to agree a one-time use by an otherwise healthy individual *probably* doesn't increase or decrease that individual's likelihood of developing a related, life-threatening illness in the future.  But again, it hasn't been widely studied.  Here are three articles I found {after I started taking filgrastim and the side effects were more than I was anticipating and I had a minor-yet-intense internal panic attack} that were somewhat informative:

Risks for Healthy PBSC Donors? One Family's Powerful Experience

Long-Term Safety of Filgrastim Administration

A Response to the Article Above

I really do wish Be The Match would include articles such as these in their literature; obviously donors should do their own research, but I do feel like filgrastim was downplayed {once again... more on this later!}.  But, spoiler alert, if I had a do-over, I'd still go through the donor process again.

Time In: My other concern after reading the materials was the likelihood of central line placement. Be The Match stated 1 in 5 female donors necessitate a central line due to arm vein finickiness.  I read that a central line is a catheter placed in your jugular under local anesthesia.  Again, I feel like this description was downplayed.  I would have done a ton more research on this as a needle in my neck did not sound like a fun time to me, but my coordinator assured me we'd talk more about the central line if the doctor at my upcoming physical felt my veins might pose a problem. So, I pretty much tabled any further consideration of the central line, signed a million consent forms, and FedExed all my paperwork back.

Donor Physical & Follow-Ups

Next on my donor to-do list was a complete physical. {Note: Be The Match coordinators set all these appointments up for donors and everything is free of cost to the donor (your insurance won't even know these appointments are occurring).  I found all the scheduling to be very smooth, and my coordinator was very cognizant of my schedule.}  The physical included all the usual suspects {weight, height, blood pressure, medical history, etc} as well as a pregnancy test, a very thorough inspection of my veins, and 14 vials of blood drawn. The doctor seemed to think my veins would handle the procedure with no issues -- not shocking since I've never had problems before but still a relief {FORESHADOWING}.  This is the point where I officially put the central line out of my mind.

After the physical, it's mostly a waiting game until it's time to administer the filgrastim and actually donate {unless, I suppose, bloodwork comes back with some surprise communicable disease that disqualifies you as a donor... it was nice to get a full blood panel for free!}.  There was a mixup with my bloodwork -- apparently there were 3 additional vials that didn't get drawn so I popped over to a lab to get that squared away.  Also, they REALLY do not want their donors to be pregnant, so I took 2 more pregnancy tests {also blood draws}.  There is a lab super close to work, so I just did these 3 draws on my lunch break in about 20 minutes. When all was said and done, the donation process involved over 25 vials of blood drawn in addition to the actual donation.

Filgrastim Injections

2 weeks prior to donation, a styrofoam ice chest was couriered to my home.  I was told to confirm its receipt, take everything out of the ice chest, and put everything in the fridge -- which I did.  Now, here comes my big critique of Be The Match... I was never given an itemized list of what SHOULD be in the cooler or what was ACTUALLY in the cooler.  Everything was packed in multiple zip locks {some opaque} and it was super hard for me to determine what they'd actually sent me, but I wasn't concerned; I assumed everything was ticking along as it was supposed to. This became a massive, massive issue when my home health care nurse {also scheduled by my coordinator} showed up at 6 am on Thursday, February 6 to give me my first injection and discovered we didn't have the actual vials of medication {they are TINY}. We are not sure what happened {and I was asked several times if I could have thrown them away... NOPE}, but it was a Drama Llama Situation.  This is the point where I realized just how nuts filgrastim is -- it is classified as a chemotherapy drug {the courier who brought me the meds on Day 2 reminded me to "call my hospice coordinator" if I had any questions -- this is a drug normally given to very, very sick people}, is not something one can just pop on down to the pharmacy to replace, and costs over a thousand dollars per vial {and I was supposed to have been sent 12 vials}.  We did get it all worked out, but my experience with the administration of filgrastim was much more "lively" than most donors {my coordinator said she's never heard of this happening before, so, thankfully, my experience is extremely rare}. I am just so glad we discovered the issue so early in the morning, because a new single dose {3 vials} for Day 1 didn't arrive via courier until 3 pm.  Timing is everything with these donations so we were all so thankful I was able to receive the injections according to schedule.

The actual injections themselves are given in fat deposits.  I did two in the back of my arms {I knew those sausage arms would come in handy someday} but vastly preferred my love handles and FUPA -- more bruising but way less pinch. 2-3 injections per day for 4 days prior to the donation and then an additional 2 injections the morning of.  My kids found Shot Time enthralling -- I think they're bummed not to see their nurse friends this week.

Day 1 - I felt 100% normal.  This was E's birthday, and, despite all the drama, we enjoyed a really nice day together and then a super fabulous dinner out.  You are allowed to drink alcohol while taking filgrastim {although you won't feel like it after Day 1} but it can increase the intensity of the side effects the next day.

Day 2 - I felt "off" but not terrible, although I did get a bad headache that evening after receiving my second round of injections are 6 pm.  Donors may take Advil or Tylenol {no aspirin} and are encouraged to take Claritin {which decreases side effects for some magical, unknown reason}. E left before the rest of us woke up for a partnership retreat this day {Friday} so the kiddos and I flew solo.

Day 3 - This was the worst day for me by far. I had my injections in the morning so I think the side effects just compounded with two rounds being administered so closely together.  My spine, hips, neck, and ribs generally ached {this I was expecting} and I had a dull, unending headache... but the killer was the sudden, "bone-crunch-contractions."  These would come in waves and my ribs and spine would feel as if they were shattering.  I felt like a laboring mother -- each time they would hit, I'd have to stop and try to breathe through them; they definitely took my breath away. I was not expecting this reaction -- none of the donor testimonies had described these waves of pain. They weren't constant, so I wasn't incapacitated, but they were pretty shitty when they occurred. I took the kids to the trampoline park that morning since it was wet and cold outside, and we were all going to go crazy in our house, and this was the moment I started frantically Googling long-term side effects of filgrastim and began to have some crappy thoughts {the most prevalent being "I really hope this dude isn't a xenophobic, racist, sexist, MAGA fanatic}.  I'd say the morning of Day 3 was my lowest point.  I actually did feel better after a ton of Motrin, Claritin, and a nap -- good enough to celebrate E's birthday with my parents at dinner time.

Day 4 - I received my last at-home dose of filgrastim in the morning. I did not wait to take Motrin and Claritin this time -- I took it right when I got up and kept up with the Motrin every 6 hours. The waves of intense pain were still prevalent but I felt well when they weren't rolling through. We ran a few errands as a family, hit up the park, and did our grocery shopping.  I took another nap when the kids rested, and we watched the Super Bowl pre-game {#SISTERHOOD} before my ride to San Antonio arrived at 6 pm.

Donation Day

The apheresis center where I was to donate is located in San Antonio. I was a little surprised Be The Match doesn't have medical centers they contract with in Austin, but I'm always down for a trip to the Alamo City. Since I had to be hooked up to the machines at 7:30 am, BTM hired a driver to take me to San An the night before and booked me a room at the Embassy Suites.   My driver was the best -- he owns a company in Austin called The Cheap Ride {recommend!}.  Both of his parents died from blood cancers, and he does a ton of work with BTM in their honor.  He is also a 6th generation Austinite and a life-long democrat, so we had a ton to chat about.  I arrived at the hotel around 7:30 and settled in with the 2nd half of the Super Bowl and a cheesy movie on HBO.

The morning of donation, I passed on the hotel breakfast buffet and hitched a ride with Andres, the Embassy Suites shuttle driver, over to GenCure.  Andres' grandmother's AML was cured by an anonymous marrow donor 6 years prior -- I cannot tell you how serendipitous it felt to randomly get him as a driver and hear her story when he realized where he was taking me.

When I arrived at GenCure, I met Dot and Elloy -- the two nurses who would be taking care of me all day.  Elloy gave me my last 2 filgrastim injections and Dot got me all settled in my recliner.  No one else was in the apheresis center so we had a lot of fun chatting {Dot donated 12 years ago to a then-19 year old girl in London who is now living a completely healthy, normal life! She and Dot still exchange letters.} while the poking began. Elloy was an expert with veins and I was on the machine before I even knew it.  The first cannula - the "sucker outter" - is inserted into the crook of your elbow which you have to keep ram-rod straight for the entirety of the donation.  The second cannula - the "putter back inner" - is inserted into the side of your wrist so that you have movement in one arm. The movement capability is nice but that insertion is a bit of a bitch - lots of nerve endings!  The center had just received brand new apheresis machines, and the staff was super jazzed about them!  I was actually the very first donor to use them -- a virgin voyage!  As such, the center's PR staff came to take photos of me and the machine {I was not aware this would be happening; hopefully their intended audience appreciates my One Bad Mother t-shirt}.  BTM's PR guy also came to interview me on camera about my experience.  And my padre drove up to sit with me which was much, much, much appreciated -- especially later on.

The average apheresis PBSC donation takes 4-6 hours.  During this time, the entirety of your blood volume cycles through the machine FIVE TIME!  Insanity!  After 3.5 hours, I asked about using the restroom and was unhooked from the machine {I was told I might have to use a bed pan, so this was a fabulous turn of events... for the moment}.  Dot came in with me to make sure I kept my arm super straight {the cannulas remain in your arms}.  Once I got hooked back up, things started getting a little nutty.  The "sucker outter" canula was not sucking as much blood volume as the machine wanted, and Elloy fiddled around with the needled for a good 45 minutes {super unpleasant, but I am so thankful for his calm persistence} before trying to place it two more times.   My vein just wasn't cooperating.  We don't know if the vein was just irritated from 4 hours of stress or if the movement from the bathroom trip messed up with the super sensitive needle.  Regardless, my biggest piece of advice for donors is DON'T PEE.  Or, at the very least, wait until you absolutely can't stand it... and then make yourself wait 30 minutes longer.  This is the worst advice ever for bladder health, but a UTI would have been worth avoiding the ensuing dramatics.

At this point, we tried switching arms.  Elloy then spent another 30 minutes trying to get my blood pressure {which had dropped} high enough to pull from the new cannula.  It became clear it wasn't going to work and my care team started talking about other options... I was asked if I could come back the next day {of course, the answer was "yes, I could work that out if it's needed}, but also told the transplant surgeon might request a central line or the hip aspiration.  Having not thought about a central line in weeks and since hip aspiration had NEVER been on the table for me, this was pretty shocking.  I asked each care member which they'd prefer, if given the choice, and they each emphatically said the aspiration, which surprised me since the recovery time is pretty intense and it's a general anesthetic surgery.  Then they explained that the central line isn't just a needle in your neck {as I'd assumed} but a catheter that snakes all the way down into your heart, and that the chances of big-time bleeding are higher than most people are comfortable with {especially an otherwise healthy person}.  T-Pop was like HOLD THE PHONE, WHAT?!  And, I am slightly ashamed to admit I stopped feeling so giving at this particular moment.  At what point do the personal risks override the benefits to a stranger? But at the same time, how can you go this far and then say "nope! never mind!" to someone who is putting all their trust in you to follow-through?  NOT A FUN MOMENT.

The care team decided the best thing to do would be to sample the cells I'd already donated and see if there were enough to stop.  Elloy had told me I'd be donating about half of this big ol' collection bag and, eyeballing it, it looked somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 full to me.  Everyone kept saying "well, it does look like it's probably enough"... but they'd also been a bit noncommittal about whether my white cell count from the labs that morning was as high as they'd like it to be so I was very nervous. We asked a lot of questions about the central line.  I tried to remember if either of the surgeries I had prior to my c-sections were completed under general anesthesia {pretty sure they were both "twilight sleep"}. I suggested perhaps we could give my leg veins a shot.  It was a really long 40 minutes.

Thankfully, the lab results came back and the transplant surgeon phoned in to say the cell count was sufficient for the patient.  This was a huge relief {especially looking back and knowing what my arms looked like the day after -- I am not sure trying the apheresis on Tuesday would have been a success} -- mostly because I was really concerned about upsetting the trajectory of the recipient's transplant, but, yes, #SelfishSallyAlert, I really did not want to make a quick decision about the central line vs. hip aspiration.

Since I'd already been unhooked, I was able to leave pretty much immediately -- after big hugs for Dot and Elloy and Vanessa {who was overseeing the procedure and brought me a delicious breakfast taco at the outset of the apheresis and was kind enough to pretend not to notice that I spilled salsa all over myself attempting to eat one handed}.  Dad and I hit the road before traffic and were home in time for a nap before supper -- it ended up being a much shorter day than anticipated.


I felt pretty crappy immediately after the procedure -- I still had the sudden, bad bone "spasms" and I just felt really worn down and mildly nauseous.  I felt better after a nap, but hit the hay early that evening.  The next day {Tuesday}, I was operating at about 80% -- I felt generally well but still experienced the bone spasms when I'd get up out of a chair or change position suddenly.  I was fine working a full day at the office, but I bowed out of a neighborhood wine tasting that evening and went to bed early again.  Wednesday I was back at 90%, and Thursday I went to my 6:15 am Orangetheory class with no issues. One week out, my arms look like I belong in a battered women's shelter, but nothing hurts. Overall, recovery has been super smooth.

The Recipient

Updates on and contact with the recipient depend on the rules of his or her transplant center.  My recipient's center will provide 3 updates on his health throughout this first year, and then we are allowed to contact one another {if we both consent} one year after the date of donation.  I do know he received the transplant, and I am so hopeful it turns out to be a success and I get to hear from him one day.  I haven't been very prayerful this last decade and I'm not entirely sure who exactly is listening, but I think of and pray for this man every day. By receiving my cells, he is essentially receiving my entire immune system -- he will inherit my vaccinations, immunities {don't need to worry about that swine flu ever again!}, and even my allergies {watch out for bees!}.  He and I will be as genetically linked as siblings for the rest of our lives.  Science really is miraculous.

Ruminations on Anonymous Donation

I'm going to start with logistics and work my way down into the deep stuff.

1. There are a lot of needles involved. Kind of a "duh," but its something to keep in mind if needles make you squeamish. I've done a ton of platelet donation and acupuncture and I've had two babies via cesarean and needles don't phase me at all and it still felt like a lot of pokes.

2. I wish I'd taken more photos on the day of donation. It was one of those "I feel weird asking at the time; this isn't really about me" moments, but now I am really sad I don't have a photo of me with Dot and Elloy. And I wish I'd taken a video of the machine putting my blood through it's paces.

3. Be The Match generally works as a well-oiled machine but there is room for improvement. Specifically, I think it's absolutely nuts I wasn't given an itemized list of what was supposed to arrive in my first cooler of meds and then required to confirm the actual contents item by item.  The filgrastim drama could have been completely avoided this way.  I am just not sure why this isn't protocol considering what's at stake for the recipient and how expensive and hard to get a hold of the medication is.

4. Outside Research, Outside Research, OUTSIDE RESEARCH. Be The Match's website is very informative but it really only scratches the surface.  I know no one {including me!} wants to scare off potential donors, and I don't want to accuse anyone of downplaying certain things, but I think there could be more material given to donors about filgrastim, central lines, etc. No where in any of the materials I was given did it mention these crazy intense bone spasm pains {everything was all "mild flu-like aching"}, but when I mentioned it to my coordinator and the home health care nurses, they were all like "oh yes, that's normal - take an Advil." And if 1 in 5 women really do end up with a central line {or even end up seriously discussing a central line}, the fucking central line needs to be explained way better.  I should have taken more responsibility in doing my own research {I did some, but not a ton, and, as I mentioned, I was super defensive when E brought up legitimate concerns}.

5. This experience taught me so much about giving without reservation. The doctor who did my physical did not have my very favorite bedside manner.  She kept joking about donating anonymously, starting by saying she always assumed donors hoped they were donating to children. I told her I knew my recipient was a 59 year old man, and she responded "well, you just hope he's a nice grandfather and not some creep."  Then she asked me if I knew whether or not he was in jail.  {Please note: this doctor was NOT affiliated with BTM in any way and was actually not the doctor who was supposed to do my physical. I'm assuming the physician who normally performs the physicals has a much more thoughtful outlook on the process.}  Her callous comments really metaphorically smacked me on the back of the head -- and I stopped mentally assigning "positive" attributes to my recipient {"maybe he's similar to my dad -- with a spouse and kids and grandkids who love him!" "maybe we share a similar belief system!" "maybe he loves to travel!" "maybe he does important work!"} and started putting my proverbial money where my liberal-elite mouth is.  I do sincerely hope he is surrounded by a special people who love him and that he gets more time to do whatever it may be that he enjoys doing. But this man deserves more life to live simply because he is my fellow human -- not because of some litmus test of worthiness.  I keep describing this experience as humbling -- yes it feels good to put some good out there in the world {especially this particular world we're living in at the present}, but it also makes you aware of just how tenuous and interconnected our lives really are. If I teach my children anything about giving {or really about living life in general}, let it be: if a need arises and you are able, fill it without the expectation of gratitude, strings attached or reservations assigned.

Phew.  That feels like a good place to end.  Please feel free to leave any questions in the comment section or shoot me an email.  I would be a first-time donor again in a heartbeat. And I hope you'll consider registering to do the same!

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