Monday, November 8, 2010

A Wider Perspective

I don't like pro-life paraphernalia.  The bumper stickers, the t-shirts, the billboards.  I don't even like the rallies.

I bet that was hard for some of my friends to read, but it is true.

 My beef is not with the "stuff" so much as the narrow meaning behind it all.  I'll be as clear as I can here....I love me some anti-abortion sentiments and legislation.  The problem is that I think that the anti-abortion movement is only part of what it should mean to be "pro-life".  There's so much more to it than just this stuff:

For me, to be pro-life is to be pro-all-life, not just unborn babies.  That means providing the most excellent health care we can and making sure it is available to everyone.  It means caring for the environment.  It means making decisions as a nation that will put troops in combat only as a last resort.  It means having a judicial system that keeps criminals in check.  It means having laws and law enforcement that will keep citizens safe and healthy.  It means having a great public education system so that children can grow up to make good decisions regarding all these things.  It means not executing prisoners.  And yes....of COURSE it means being anti-abortion.

I think everyone is called to fight their own part of the battle.  In my life, the thing that tugs the heart strings the most is the health insurance issue.  The reason behind this calling is, of course, the experience that my family has had with insurance as it has related to my mom's battle with cancer in the past.  

For those of you who aren't up to date with that, here's the cliff notes version (dates are estimations in some instances):
  • Early 1994: Diagnosis
  • 1995: Remission
  • 2003: It's back
  • 2004: Things are pretty bad.  I flew home from college during the week of mid-terms to be with the family
  • 2006: Still pretty bad.  To plan around treatment, my brother and sister-in-law's wedding gets moved up 4 months 
  • October 2006: Bone Marrow Transplant
  • Today: Cancer free!  One more year of being cancer free and we can officially use the word "cured"!
It seems like nothing when you boil it down to a couple bullet points.  See me for more details if interested :)  But rest assured that a more in depth narrative would be littered with stories of battles with insurance companies.

This all brings me (finally) to this past weekend.  We journeyed down to my parents' home in Tucson to be present for an incredible event put on by a non-profit organization called Building More Tomorrows, which has an association with the Arizona Cancer Center where my mom receives treatment.  The mission of Building More Tomorrows is to provide support to patients (and patient families) who undergo a bone marrow transplant (BMT).

A BMT is an incredibly involved process.  Due to the risk and side effects involved, it is nothing short of a last ditch effort.  When discussing a BMT as an option for my mom, her oncologist, Dr. Yeager, suggested a "famliy meeting".  I flew from Texas to AZ.  My brother and sister-in-law drove down from Flagstaff.  We gathered in a tiny exam room to talk about the details of the "procedure".  It sounded awful.  As Dr. Yeager was telling us about risks, including the risk of it not working, my brother asked for a percentage.  I don't recall if he asked for the odds of the BMT working (for some patients, the first one bombs and it has to be repeated) or the odds of survival.  I don't even recall the number that Dr. Yeager reported, but I do remember the thick feeling of heaviness in the tiny room at the sound of a number that was nowhere near desirable.  

The Building More Tomorrows event this weekend was a symposium  in raising awareness for and educating about BMTs.  It was a luncheon event with three speakers.  THE man....Dr. Yeager himself...spoke first about BMT in a nutshell: what's it is really about.  The next speaker had a short presentation about the desperate need for more people on the Bone Marrow Registry.  The final speaker shared about the real-life financial and insurance implications of such treatment.  

So what really does a BMT entail?  Dr. Yeager did a good job boiling it all down.

His care and treatment saved my mom's life!
  • Secure a suitable donor 
  • On what is referred to as "Day 1", the donor is given a drug (over a period of days) that increases the rate at which their own marrow is produced and causes it to move out of the bones and into their blood
  • Blood is drawn and marrow cells are separated from the red blood cells, which are then returned to the donor
  • BMT patient is given extremely high doses of chemotherapy and radiation to eradicate.....everything.  The bad stuff is hopefully killed off and, along with that, some good things go too.  Good parts of blood?  Gone.  Childhood immunizations?  Gone.  You get the picture.  Imagine how awful this must be for the patient and how fragile it makes them.
  • Once the doctor has a clean slate to work with, the new marrow is given intravenously and starts making healthy stuff.  This typically happens anywhere between Day 15 and Day 30.
During all this time, the patient is in the hospital and miserable as hell, if they have even survived up until this point.  Some people are in the hospital for as little as 2 or 3 weeks (lucky ducks!).  My mom was in the hospital, with few short-lived trips "home" until after Christmas (it started in October).  After final hospital discharge, the patient has to remain in very close proximity to the hospital (usually 30 minutes) where they received their treatment for a significant period of time, typically several months.  Since my parents' home was 4 hours away, this meant having to rent an apartment and essentially move to Tucson.  One can see where insurance and financial resources are really starting to become important!

There's so much I'm leaving out and it is exhausting to think/talk/type about it.  Let's just boil it down to this: there must be something very important that God has planned for my mom still because she has survived not only cancer, but a bone marrow transplant with a relatively low chance of survival.

My mom's BMT was made possible by my aunt, who was the donor.  There's a 25% chance that a patient's sibling will be a match.  Those who aren't as lucky to have such a match, must turn to the National Marrow Donor Registry, a list of amazing people who are ready and willing to be a donor, should they ever be matched to a patient in need.  For these matches, ethnicity matters and (surprise, surprise), there are not enough donors of minor ethnicities.  If I needed a transplant and my brother was not a match, I'd have, at best, at 70% chance of finding a donor on the registry.  I heard a presentation from a Puerto Rican whose mother died before finding a donor...she only had a 3% chance of find one to begin with.

The symposium was great and I could see a lot of light bulbs switching on over a lot of people.  The real reason Leni and I attended, however, was for the entertainment at the end.  Some very amazing people, my mom included, were asked to be models in a survivor fashion show.  

The fashion show was pretty legit!  There was a runway, lights, photographers, music...the works!  Before each model came out, the MC read their "survival story" which they had each written about their battle with cancer.  They then worked the runway to the song of their own choice (personal fav choice: Survivor by Destiny's Child).  It was such a physical, tangible representation of the battle these people have won.  At one point, each of them was, let's face it, close to death.  But now, LIFE is shooting through all of them.  Some were young enough that they are now healthy and have had their own kids.  Some are older but living their own lives and improving the lives of others around them.  Surely, this is pro-life as much as anything else.

It was an incredible honor to be able to make the trek down to Tucson for this event and see what a joy it was for my mom.  I will end this absurdly long post with two things:
  1. A plug for you to save a life and become a bone marrow donor, especially if you are of an ethnic minority
  2. Pictures that portray my viewpoint of being pro-life:

My mom!

Because a BMT saved his life, he now has twin sons and is a 3rd year med student.
How many more lives might be created and saved because he is alive?

His family!

Awaiting a donor.  Been given a 40% chance of survival
 Keep It Real!


  1. This might have brought tears to my eyes. What a powerful post!

  2. oops. I was on Nick's account. I'm sure he was moved as well!