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  • Birds of a Feather

    Birds of a Feather

    It was freshman year at college. Mom and I had been running around sunny D.C. gathering the last bits and bobs for my dorm room - area rugs, throw pillows, and things were shaping up. Now, on my very last day with her until the Thanksgiving holiday, I started to feel pangs deep in my belly, nagging reminders of our imminent separation. I told myself to grow up.

    Off to the school bookstore to complete the last big task - picking up all of my textbooks for the semester. After strolling around for 20 minutes, the crowd in the bookstore started to swell, the lines for check-out becoming thicker, the whole vibe turning a bit manic, and as neither mom nor I like big crowds, we began to make our way over to the checkout counter. 

    Suddenly, complete silence enveloped the bookstore. Over in the Art History shelves, someone had dropped to the floor. Nobody seemed to be moving. 

    I had always known my mom was special. When I was a child, she seemed to appear at the very last moment of a crisis, wielding the exact gadget or thingamamob that would solve the case, whether that be a piece of tape to repair a pair of loose glasses, a bandaid from the depths of her worn Bottega Veneta long strap pocketbook, or a lipstick for a friend (or complete stranger) in need. Driving home from school one day, she saved a fish that had been dropped from a pelican's mouth by sprinting over a pile of boulders until she was half-submerged in the Long Island sound. She carried the poor thing in a Dunkin' Donuts napkin and gently released it into the water to safety. These were daily occurences, and I began to believe Mom could do anything. 


    Today, she pushed her skinny frame through a throng of students and parents, through four thick rows of people waiting to pay. I plodded along behind her, nervously looking around as people watched, frozen, their jaws hanging open like big lazy fish. My mother's long freckled arms finally reached a beautiful girl shaking so hard she was practically levatating off the floor. Mom slid herself under the girl, cradling her head in her lap. Small puffs of foamy saliva escaped from the girl's lips and caught in her auburn hair. Mom cleaned them away with her tanned little fingers. She stroked the girl's arms, her face, whispering that she would be alright, that this would pass. She held her chin up, keeping her tongue down, making sure she would not choke. The girls's mother watched wide-eyed as this stranger cared for her daughter. 

    It felt like hours, but a few moments later, the girl awoke from the seizure - her first ever (her father had epilepsy) and looked up at my mother with a combination of utter confusion and gratitude. 


    Two nights ago, after insisting I did not need anyone to sleep with me at the hospital (I had been alone now three nights in a row with no complications) I was awoken abruptly by a nurse who told me I needed to get out of my room, now. I had just come from a lung biospy and was not only sedated, but somehow robbed of my eyeglasses (I am legally blind) and completely disoriented. I threw things into whatever bags I could find and waited in the dark. I waited for over an hour. And then I starting calling for help. Nobody came. When I finally made it to the room they were transferring me to, it was pitch black. I found the bed, but as I squinted around the room to try to figure out where I was - a storage room? I could make out two mismatched tables, a computer on wheels, I could have sworn there was a bicycle... It was very drafty, freezing really. I wished my mom was there.

    At around 5am, I texted her. "I'll be there in 20," she texted back. And she was. She breezed right in, her Chanel Gardenia reaching me just a few instants before she sat down. "You can't see a thing, can you?" she said. "No!" I confessed. 

    What followed was the kind of giggle fest you only experience at incredibly important (usually somber) occasions - in church, for example. As I recounted the horrific events of the past 12 hours, we laughed and laughed, sometimes out of pure frustration and exhaustion, but mostly out of relief. We had successfully made it to the transplant floor. I was under the watchful eye of my medical team and a group of super knowledgeable nurses who would help me get better. But most importantly, we were together, two birds of a feather. What could possibly be better?

  • The Emergency Room

    Of all people, I know how quickly a life can change in the blink of an eye. This has happened to me so many times it seems it is woven into my life's pattern, just like my hazel eyes, or my knobby knees. It also comes with an almost spiritual component, a reluctance to ever give up on this connection I have, that we all have, to this world we live in. I find I beat on and on through challenges as they arise, and although exhausting, I have so far managed to keep my head at the horizon, thrusting through the surges, just barely keeping my head above water. 

    None of this "courage" changes the fact that when I am feeling very sick, or am in terrible pain, I become terrified. Everything sort of clamps up, my thinking becomes unclear, and actions and decisions become tied to a kind of crickety old brass Alice-in-Wonderland timer, where the sand is pouring pouring through too quickly. This is what I call "Panic Mode." 

    Yesterday, around 2:15am, I woke up with a searing pain my back. It began radiating to my chest. I grabbed my husband and we sped up the FDR to the Emergency Room. The diagnosis: A significant mass of pneumonia in my chest. Pneumonia is not something anyone would be pleased to catch, but someone 5 months out of a bone marrow transplant is especially immuno-suppressed and pneumonia, although common, can be very very dangerous.

    We got through triage, and were finally given a "room." Patients lined the hallways, crying out in pain, in languages ranging from Spanish to Russian. We tried to maneuver my wheelchair through but alas, it was too wide to squeeze by the row of cots, some of which were double-parked. With the help of my husband, we staggered to the back of the hall where my "cot" awaited. We settled in, next to the strorage room which seemed to be accessed frequently and forcefully. I climbed into the cot and thanked God we had a curtain to separate us from a gentleman with some kind of whooping cough not 2 feet away.

    Hours later I found myself awake, drenched in sweat, screaming for a doctor and for an IV painkiller in a kind of fever-like panic. Really not my style. About an hour later my hero oncologist found me a room on the 14th floor. While it was not covered by insurance, I took it. I felt I was getting sicker by the minute down in that dungeon. 

    I had spent over 18 hours in the cot downstairs in the ER. I had slept, but my poor mother and mother-in-law looked like zombies under those fluorescent lights, the reds and yellows of the skin underneath their eyes puffing out from layered scarves to ward off the chill of the hospital air system. I fell asleep, and when I woke up I was being wheeled into what can only be called a 5-star hotel suite, and I felt a huge sense of relief that my ordeal in the ER was over. Yet, even as I relaxed, and had my first real meal in 24 hours, I worried for the people I had left behind. What would they eat for dinner tonight?

  • Bat Friday

    Bat Friday

    I've just emerged from a 30-minute bath, a deep cleanse and recovery from last night's 2-hour Halloween extravaganza. I think that word is appropriate here considering the staggering number of trick-or-treaters who rang our bell last night (7). I am exhausted! I feel as if I had homemade those mini Snickers bars myself! I make so many plans these days, they're all amazingly colorful and fun and totally doable in my mind, but when I actually get down to doing them, well that's a whole different story. Grrrr... steroids. Can't live with'em, can't live without'em. (I am now off of these dreaded pills, but my body is slow to pick back up!)

    My beautiful candy basket (orange and black, candy laying on a bed of straw) is wilting away in East Hampton where I thought I would be. Joint pain and muscle aches prevented me from driving out yesterday. My pumpkins, spooky candles, the whole shebang, just sitting in an empty house. I am so ready to put Halloween to bed for this year.

    Not so for the city that never sleeps. It seems everyone (especially the over-30 crowd) is on to their 3rd costume of the weekend. And it's Friday.  

  • Running for a Cure

    Running for a Cure

    Today, my sister Vasi ran her heart out for Team in Training, raising over $15,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. And I was there to watch her cross the finish line!

    Vasi's Team in Training Page

  • Homecoming

    My feet are standing firmly on NYC soil. I promised to celebrate this 100th Day milestone no matter what the situation, but never did I imagine I would be celebrating it at home. Two days after I wrote to you about my nagging sense of doom, I went in for another round of labs to check my counts and enzymes. My liver numbers had decreased by half, indicating a downward trend towards the normal range. All other counts were within a range my doctor was happy with. She signed the paperwork and left the room to make copies, pausing to mention, rather nonchalantly that she would be removing my port line in a few minutes. This line was the constant nuisance that jutted out from my chest with three giant color coded lumens. It had prevented me from taking a proper shower, or moving my left arm and shoulder, or sleeping comfortably for seven months. Tears streaming down flushed faces, my mother and I clung to each other, like two penguins in a huddle braving a white windstorm. Only our storm had passed, and we were looking at a clear blue sky ahead.

     

     

  • 100 Days

    I would like to dedicate this post to my two mothers, Diana Schwatka and Monina von Opel. Without these two incredible, dedicated, strong, fighting women, none of this would have been possible. They have provided 24-hour, unwavering comfort, support, love, structure, sustenance, discipline, laughter. The three chicas we are, and when we are together, anything is possible.

    One hundred days after a bone marrow transplant, a stem cell patient celebrates his or her “100 Days.” This day marks the first milestone, the end of what is called “early recovery.”

    As my one hundredth day approaches, I am overcome by a nagging sense of doom in the back of my mind that something will prevent me from going home. This feeling was exacerbated yesterday by my stem cell transplant doctor: she noticed a spike in my liver enzymes and will not let me go back home to New York until the numbers drop down to a normal range. This rise could be due to the simple overload of a particular medication, but it also could develop into something as serious as Graft vs. Host Disease (GVHD), when the donor’s cells (graft) attack patient’s cells (host), as these cells are foreign to them.

    I went through a little battle with GVHD of the upper digestive tract last month. It put me back in the hospital for six days and onto steroids, where I promptly shed ten pounds off my thin body and my muscles dissolved. I am still on the steroids, still trying to build muscle while the steroids eat away at my muscle. I have continued to lose weight and have settled at a bleak 101 lbs on a 5’9” frame.

    Nevertheless, this GVHD of the upper GI tract is completely under control. There are no signs that it is still there and I seem to have gotten through this setback. The doctors are not worried. And it’s mostly my vanity that has been shaken at this point: I can’t bear to look at my skeletal self, standing in front of the mirror under the ‘50’s-style flower petal lighting fixtures in the bathroom.

    But back to the liver situation… On the drive home from the doctor, as I waded through the emotions this news had churned up, a thought boldly announced itself. This was just one more bump in the road. One more accomplishment waiting to be fulfilled. Starting with the more recent hurdles and working backwards, I began to visualize each and every challenge I have gotten through, many of which I thought insurmountable, and that fire of resolve started burning again.

    As soon as we got back, I made a beeline to the gym. I was a woman on a mission. I purelled the entire elliptical machine, rolled on my blue plastic gloves, arranged my mask snuggly around my ears and nose, and settled into the enormous foot pads. I nested my $80 state of the art apple earbuds into my ears, and turned on my iPod to an absurd volume that made my eardrums pulsate. I started to dance. Swinging my hips, throwing my head back, all the while pedaling, pedaling forward. Then things got a little crazier. I started to sing, first sort of humming but quickly progressing to the kind of singing you do in the shower as you are channeling Beyoncé belting out "Run the World (Girls)." Yes, there were two other patrons there – but one was gabbing on the phone so I considered myself entitled to this small luxury. I felt energized, strong, ready to beat this hurdle just as I have so many times before. I couldn’t help grinning – I think I am finally understanding this whole endorphins phenomenon – they really do make you happier!

    On September 21st, I will be celebrating my 100 Days no matter what my counts are, no matter what the situation is, because I have accomplished too much not to bask in the exhilarating feeling of knowing what I am capable of. 

  • Ode to Coco

    I had spent the last nine months living in my childhood home in Westchester, my mother hovering over me like an anxious hen. She drove me back and forth from the hospital, meticulously wrapped my pic line in plastic so I could shower, and spent countless hours at the stove, often bringing my (very specific) meals to me in bed when I was too weak to come down the stairs. I felt so lucky to have her, but I was restless, through with being a patient, and anxious to get back to my old life. I missed my boyfriend, our apartment, our routine. And so, a few weeks after Christmas in 2009, I decided to move back home to West 3rd Street, where I planned to step back into my apartment and the life I had missed these past nine months.  

    Unfortunately, shortly after arriving at said apartment, I realized my old life had left the building. In my closet hung the clothes I used to wear, now too tight from all the steroid bloating, the rows of beautiful shoes, organized by color, that I knew my ankles were too weak to run around in, my state-of-the-art hair-dryer, a remnant of a happier, hairier time.  

    I unpacked all of my pills, and lined them up in their bright orange plastic containers like soldiers standing guard. Each night before bed, I would methodically unscrew each cap, and begin the long process of swallowing all of my medication: three to five chemotherapy pills, five to ten steroids pills, an antibiotic, an antiviral medication, and antifungal medication, a medication to coat the lining of my stomach. Once a week, I would drag myself to the hospital for lab checks or chemo, wincing as the taxi jerked over every pothole on the FDR Drive, my face buried in my scarf to dilute whatever stale smell wafted back from the front seat. I was exhausted, and feeling terrible a lot of the time, with no mother hen to look after me. Coming home hadn’t changed a thing – I was still a patient in need of care.

    Each morning, as soon as Nicolas left for work, I would sink back into bed, my muscles groaning, my body as heavy as lead. On bad days, I would stay bundled up under the covers, with the heavy curtains closed, until he called to say he was on his way home. As soon as I hung up, I would hurry into the shower (how could I confess I’d been in bed all day??), calculating how many minutes I had before he arrived. Then I would run around like a frantic chicken, flipping on the lights in the apartment, fluffing the pillows, rinsing out my cereal bowl in the sink before he got home.

    Some nights, despite my best efforts to sneak out of bed unnoticed, Nicolas would find me pacing up and down the hall in the dark, revved up on steroids, my nightgown wet from night sweats, shivering. It was not an easy time for us, and I hated myself for being the source of the problem.  

    Then one day, a ray of light broke through the dark cloud that had settled over me since coming home. A tiny creature caught my attention, her black eyes shining out at me from behind a dirty pet-shop window. Some invisible force propelled me forward. I flung open the door, and desperately summoned the sluggish teenager hunched over the counter. “Please!” I shouted, “can I hold that one?” The smell of dog treats and wee wee pads permeated the place, a layer of grime covered every surface, and yet, without a moment’s hesitation, I collapsed onto the floor, hugging this 3-lb Pomeranian puppy to my chest, feeling the warmth of her little body, her strong heartbeat as quick as the seconds hand on a clock. I was completely and inexplicably in love.

    That night after Nicolas came home, I talked animatedly about the puppy on 6th Avenue and 12th street. I shoved all sorts of interesting and relevant information about the breed across the dinner table. Smart, easy to train, clean, loving, the perfect companion – this was the dog for me! I was completely energized, and happy for the first time in weeks. But Nicolas did not share my enthusiasm. He didn’t think we were ready for a dog (I was still immuno-suppressed and in no condition to care for a small animal), and, more importantly, it was wrong to support pet stores when one should adopt an animal from a shelter, or buy from a reputable breeder. Men are so reasonable.

    Although I knew Nicolas was right, I couldn’t shake the sadness that settled over me. That Saturday I woke up crying for no reason. I wished I could do something to pull myself together, but the tears kept coming. Nicolas looked exhausted, and desperate to help – I was not making this easy. I finally managed to convince him that a good old pity-party, hosted by yours truly, would surely lift my spirits, and I settled into a hot bath to shed a few more tears. Sometimes a good cry is all one needs, I told him. He seemed reassured, and went out to run a few errands.

    Four hours later, he still hadn’t returned. After his cell went straight to voicemail, I launched into panic mode. What if my tears had driven him to do something reckless? What if he had inadvertently wandered into oncoming traffic? Or, worse, what if he had done it on purpose?? Just when I was about to call local authorities to report a missing person, the elevator doors heaved open.

    At first, all I saw was an old cardboard box, the tops flapping open hap hazardously, shredded newspaper spilling out onto the floor. “I brought you something,” Nicolas said, his voice muffled from behind the gargantuan box. I peered inside, and two familiar black eyes peered back at me.

    I burst into tears. Again. And this time, Nicolas did too.

    We (I) decided to call her Coco Puff Papadopoulos, after Cocoa Puffs the cereal, because as a puppy she was a rice puff, perfectly fat and round, four little pink paws poking out from underneath her belly. That night, as we set up Coco’s new home, deliberating over where to put her bed, her blanket, and her water bowl, I asked Nicolas what had made him change his mind. “If I were sick, and feeling awful, and there was something, anything, to make me feel better, I hope that someone would make that happen for me,” he said. “I thought about it for a long time today, and I realized that thing for you is Coco.”

    My reasonable man had reasoned his way to the best possible conclusion! Coco did make me feel better. She gave me purpose. “Coco needs breakfast!” I would say to myself, as I leapt out of bed each morning, full of responsibility and determination. It wasn’t always easy, but it was just what I needed to pull me back into a routine. We went for walks in the park, to the hardware store, to the bank. We found a coffee shop that would have Coco as a patron, and the two of us lingered over my latte for hours, watching the passers-by on Sullivan Street as they headed to the park. Coco kept me company while Nicolas was away at work, circling my feet as I prepared dinner in the kitchen, waiting for me to drop a leaf of lettuce (to play with), or a piece of cheese (much more exciting), or a shred of chicken (absolute heaven). On days when I was feeling too sick to get out of bed, she curled up at my feet, occasionally rolling her eyes, but never leaving my side.

    Coco turned us into a family, of sorts. There were now three of us at West 3rd Street, and life felt more complete. For the first time in a long time, I felt progress, like our lives were moving forward, and in the right direction.

    _________

    In February, when I found out I would be traveling to Houston’s MD Anderson, I knew Coco wouldn’t be allowed to accompany me. Dogs and cats, most animals, and babies of course, are big no-no’s for immune-suppressed patients, as they carry all sorts of bacteria. But knowing I would have to leave her didn’t make it any easier. It’s been over two months since Coco watched Nicolas and I drag our bags into the elevator to make our way to the airport. “Stay,” we told her as the doors closed. She blinked at us, her head tilted to one side, and I wondered, as I often do, what she was thinking at that moment. I miss her all the time. She however, seems to be doing very well. I get frequent updates from my husband when he is at home in New York, and photos and videos from her many adoring puppy-sitters when Nico is here with me in Houston.

    Despite the fact that Coco finds it pretty boring, I always insist that we skype when Nicolas is home with her. Although her ears perk up when I call her name, the person she is looking at, is Nicolas. Adoringly, might I add. And the feeling is mutual. I have seen how his face lights up at the end of a long day as she gallops over to greet him at the elevator, and how he talks to her as they watch the news on the sofa, and how he sneaks her into our bed (“just so she can spend some time with us before she has to go to her bed!”) and my heart swells to think of the two of them keeping each other company while I am away.

    Coco has become the glue that holds our little family together. And for me, sitting over here in Texas fretting while my husband and life are all the way back in New York, I feel better knowing the (now 7-lb) Pomeranian is there to hold down the fort.

    And since I know you are all dying to see the wondrous and magical Coco... A little collage. Enjoy!

  • The Michael Phelps Diet

    I remember vividly the moment years ago in induction, around Day 9, when I realized just how quickly chemotherapy (especially high doses of it) can ravage your muscles and body fat and leave you looking like Skeletor. I had been mostly bedridden for 2 days, unable to summon the energy to stand long enough to shower or even change out of my hideous hospital pants. When I finally got around to peeling them off, I looked down in horror at what, only 48 hours earlier, had been my relatively shapely legs. Two wobbly sticks with enormous knobs for knees lay side by side. The negative space in between them had grown considerably – neither thigh came even close to the other. It was terrifying. Gone were the hard-earned calf-muscles (all those stairs climbed in 5-inch heels wasted!). No more smooth fleshy thighs to speak of. Just two sad-looking stilts for legs.

    The transplant will take off at least 10% of my body weight, and at 5’9” and 118lbs, that puts me in a precarious position. I know from last time around that as soon as I lose more than 10lbs, things start to become very, very difficult. Between the nausea and the loss of appetite, finding something I could tolerate eating was surprisingly challenging. The less I was able to eat, the weaker I got, and the weaker I got, the more difficult the treatment became. Each chemo was more brutal than the last, each side effect more debilitating. Had it not been for the marijuana pill my doctor prescribed to re-train me to eat on my own (that’s a story for another time), I would have ended up on a feeding tube – a thought so horrific, I will do anything to avoid it this time around.

    With all of this in mind, I’ve taken on a new approach to eating while undergoing treatment. I eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. I don’t wait until I am hungry. I take advantage of every day I have a good appetite (which luckily for me, has been most days!) and perhaps most importantly, I have made a conscious effort to increase my calorie intake significantly to counter-act the effects of the chemo.

    I’ve also come to terms with the fact that it is simply not enough to eat my vegetables and grains and all the healthy “cancer-fighting” foods I read about fanatically – although it is very important to keep those foods as a part of my (and your!) diet. I really need to increase my daily calorie intake in whatever ways I can (some more shameful than others), because I know it’s the only way not only to hold onto my current weight, but to have the chance to gain a few pounds before the transplant. So, for the last few weeks, I have been adding butter to anything even remotely butter-able, I have slurped down milkshakes at 10am, I’ve eaten all the foods I normally consider indulgences (cheesy paninis and gratin dauphinois) with reckless abandon.

    And it is working! I’ve gained a promising 4lbs. At this rate, I should be 10lbs heavier and ready to go for the transplant, which is very exciting news. On the down side, after any of my sisters comes to visit, I inevitably get an angry email once they’ve landed in New York about the sympathy weight they gained while adjusting (even temporarily) to my diet. “It’s fine for you to eat like Michael Phelps, Phoebs, but it is just not acceptable for me!’ they shout across cyber space.

    I can handle a little sisterly agitation. My goal is crystal clear. And with this kind of victory to look forward to, how long can they stay angry with me?

    For more information on how to fatten up, visit the Health & Nutrition section of the website!

  • How To Lose Your Hair in 10 Days

    After spending a few restless nights breathing in strands of hair that had abandoned my head for greener pastures on the pillow case, after shaking it out of my pajamas, blowing it out of my nostrils, and blinking it out of my eyes, I started to warm up to the idea of shaving my head completely. Perhaps this is the natural progression of things, I convinced myself. Perhaps I will soon work up enough courage to pick up the razor, switch the power button to the “on” position and just buzz.

    I thought I would have a few weeks to prepare for the thinning and hair loss associated with the chemo I received in Cycle One: “half-dose chemo,” as my doctor referred to it, implying a slow and manageable transition from shoulder-length hair, to the compulsory boy-cut I knew would come, and finally, the bowling ball baldness that would inevitably follow. I cut off eight inches of perfect ponytail upon arriving in Houston, (which I planned to donate) congratulating myself on having been so ahead of the game. Little did I know how quickly the rest of my hair would decide to make an exit.

    When I tell my doctor my hair is falling out, she shrugs, rolls her eyes (not in an insensitive way, but in a way that indicates she’s been expecting this) and prescribes a vitamin. I leave the office hopeful that whatever hair I have already lost will soon be replaced by new growth, restored by the “super potency” of Nature’s Bounty Biotin.

    Thinning hair is a nuisance at best, as troubling as a little nausea or brittle nails. I can list a hundred aspects of the next six months that completely eclipse this one small side effect. But as the days go by, and my hair continues to fall out in wet clumps in the shower, I realize I’ve crossed the line from thinning to baldness. And baldness is something else entirely. Seeing myself for the first, or second, or even tenth time without my hair is curiously upsetting. My bald head is a constant physical and visual reminder of my current circumstance in life, my “status” as cancer patient. Somehow, when I still had my hair, I could trick myself (and everyone else) into believing I was just a woman in a hospital. I suppose this is why women wear wigs. If you look like yourself, you may feel more like yourself, and thus you may feel better.

    But as I watched the last of my hair fall to the bathroom floor today, the hum of the razor reverberating off the tiled walls, what I felt, above all, was relief. I no longer have hair, but more importantly, I am no longer tormented by the fear of losing it. And that is something to celebrate. 

  • The Importance of Platelets

    The Importance of Platelets

    This morning, as I prepared for another day in clinic, my little sister Irina and her boyfriend Michael made their way to MD Anderson’s Blood Bank to make a donation. Platelets, even more than red blood cells, are pretty hard to come by here. They are hugely important, as they are what clot your blood and prevent the sometimes serious bleeds associated with cancer treatments. After I was bumped from the transfusion list two weeks ago (a patient with an active bleed took priority, and rightly so), I felt firsthand how important it is to have a fully stocked blood bank. I asked my family to do their part and donate their platelets to the cancer center.

    Irina and Michael arrived on Saturday, excited at the prospect of “doing” something to help. They hydrated liberally all weekend, eating the super foods (ie. Magnum double caramel ice cream bars) that they believed would yield a perfect batch of platelets. They speculated about whose platelets would be better, stronger, and more “potent.” And this morning, they set off to the Mays Clinic, full of energy, positivity, and good platelets.

    Irina had a slow start. The nurse declared her veins to be unsatisfactory, showing them around to the other IV nurses and shaking her head as if to say “these won’t do!” She ordered her to eat a bacon cheeseburger and return once her belly was full. Michael, on the other hand, sailed through the screening portion, was hooked up to the complex apheresis machine moments after checking in, and was halfway through the donation by the time Irina returned. 

    Meanwhile, over in the fast-track lab of the main buidling, the results of my CBC came back. My platelet count had dropped again, down to 15. I would need a transfusion. Before making my way over to the infusion center, I popped in to check on Irina. I found her in the corner of the blood collection room, resting on a lime-green leather recliner, hooked up to an IV connected to three different bags of blood products. She looked so small, skinny arms peeking out from under a heap of warm blankets. I suddenly became lightheaded. I felt hot and dizzy, almost seasick. I staggered to a chair and dropped my head between my knees. I gulped in the air around me, trying to steady my breath.

    As I sat there trying to remember the words to the breathing mantra my mother-in-law had taught me the week before, memories of long days spent in the hospital, my sisters sharing shifts, came flooding back. I remembered the three of them, sitting dutifully at my bedside, alert, ready for action, but unable to do anything besides exist in those moments with me. Through uncomfortable tests and treatments, countless transfusions, on days where I was feeling weak and tired, they carried on, infusing me with positive energy, providing endless reserves of support and comfort. And I know that still, they wished they could do more. 

    I realized today that giving the gift of blood or platelets may be the most important donation a person can make. I am proud to know that sometime in the very near future, Irina’s platelets, and Michael’s, and those of other family and friends, will help someone like me to make it through the next few days of his or her own battle. There really is no greater gift than that. 

    For more information on how you can donate blood or platelets, please visit:

    http://www.mdanderson.org/how-you-can-help/donate-blood/index.html

    or

    http://www.redcrossblood.org