Thursday, September 1, 2011

Get Swabbed

I did something good today. Well, I signed up to do something good, and I think you should think about doing something good great too. It is super easy, and super fast. What is it, you ask? Well, I think you should sign up to get swabbed.

Sounds gross, but you could save a life. All you have to do is go to the DKMS website (click on the "Get Swabbed" widget I added on the side of my page to get easy!), fill out a quick form, and when the swab is mailed to you, rub it on the inside of your cheek to collect human leukocyte antigen markers that are in your skin cells.

I know there are ethical issues with collecting DNA samples. Some people are worried about genetic information getting into the wrong hands. In this case, I'm going to put aside any semi-warranted paranoia so that I can possibly save a life. Perhaps I am being naive, but I don't think so.

If you don't want to walk the slippery slope of DNA swabs but you would like to do something,  the easiest thing is to just get a manicure. When you do, make sure you bring your own bottle of one of the two OPI "I love DKMS" polishes (in red or white). OPI will donate $20,000 of the profits to DKMS.

Why should you do anything at all? Here's why I'm doing something:

Four years ago I had a student (I'm not going to use his name) who had spent much of his sophomore and junior years in and out of the children's hospital getting treatments for his leukemia. When he came to my class as a senior, I knew exactly who he was. He was the bald "cancer kid" who was on the drum line in the marching band. I had seen him and admired that he participated in such a demanding school activity even when he was clearly ill. In fact, when I was shooting photos of marching band, my camera always found him. Yep, I knew exactly who he was. I didn't know his story though.

I got to read and hear bits and pieces of his story over the course of the year. When he turned in his college admissions essay to me to look over, I sobbed. The Boston Red Socks fan wrote about getting his Make-A-Wish wish granted and going to Boston to watch a game. He got to go out on the field, throw the ball around with some players while they warmed up the afternoon before the evening game he attended with his family, and he got some pretty cool Red Socks swag. To him it was a dream come true. I can't help but think about the fact that his dream come true was given to him because he was close to death.

In my class, the tall, lanky kid was growing blonde hair back and he was planning to study music. He didn't seem to be close to death, and in fact, the prognosis was good.

I don't know if he ever had a bone marrow transplant. I do know that if I was his match and he needed one, I would have freely given my marrow to him to make him well. He's not some special kid out there who deserves my marrow. I imagine the majority of those who have leukemia are just as memorable, kind, and loving. I bet they deserve life just like my student.

By the way, he is studying music. He wants to teach. He comes to visit me every time he is home on a break (or for checkups with his oncologist). He tells me how much he loved my class and what a difference I made in his life. He has no idea how he impacted my life. Every time I see him my heart swells. He's well. He's got hair. He's going to make it.

I'll gladly swab my cheek if it means kids like this can go to college and live productive lives. It seems like a no brainer.

I didn't know about DKMS until I read an article called "The Fighter" in August's Vogue. Here's a tear sheet of the editorial.

(Image from here.)

Then I saw that Vanity Fair blogged about "painting it forward" to highlight OPI's partnership with DKMS.

I'm glad the word is getting out there. I'm going to do my part, and I hope you'll at least think about swabbing.

What do you guys think? Is the risk worth it? Anyone out there already on the donor list? Tell me about the process.

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