Thursday, February 18, 2010

I'm 40 years older than my older sister

Last Friday, February 12, I turned 47. Friday, February 19, would have been my sister Donna's 53rd birthday. But it's not really, because she was seven when she died of leukemia back in 1964, and so she never aged. She never grew to really taste life, explore her interests and talents, have a career, fall in love, become a mother. She's still seven. She'll always be seven. But she'll always be my older sister.

Oldest, in fact, since I have a sister four years my senior, and another one seven years my junior. Donna was the first born. As the old data processing acronym goes, FIFO: first in, first out.

I've written about Donna before, so I won't rehash the history here. There are a couple of reasons I wanted to post on her again. One is because of her birthday and the realization that I've lived four full decades longer than Donna; the other because leukemia still kills too many children and adults each year.

Here are some statistics from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society website:
Every 4 minutes one person is diagnosed with a blood cancer.

An estimated 139,860 people in the United States will be diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma in 2009. New cases of leukemia, Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloma account for 9.5 percent of the 1,479,350 new cancer cases diagnosed in the United States this year*.

Leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma will cause the deaths of an estimated 53,240 people in the United States this year. These blood cancers will account for nearly 9.5 percent of the deaths from cancer in 2009 based on the 562,340 total cancer-related deaths.

Every ten minutes, someone dies from a blood cancer. This statistic represents nearly 146 people each day, or more than six people every hour. Leukemia causes more deaths than any other cancer among children and young adults under the age of 20.

*Facts and statistics from Leukemia, Lymphoma, Myeloma Facts 2009-2010, June 2009.

One of the more promising treatments for leukemia not available during Donna's short lifetime is transplantation of bone marrow. The National Marrow Donor Program keeps a registry of more than seven million potential donors of life-saving marrow. Yet still perfect matches are hard to find. On January 23, 1999, I joined the registry in response to a marrow drive looking for a match for a specific person. It didn't hurt, it didn't take long, and it didn't cost me anything. Eleven years later, I'm still waiting, hoping that I can be a match for someone.

Maybe you can be a match for someone. If so, there's a good chance you'd be that person's last, best hope for a longer life. I only wish I could have donated my marrow to Donna.

To learn how you can join the registry, or make a donation to support their vital efforts, visit the Be The Match Foundation website.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Too bad Hannah and Stella never got to meet Auntie Donna. :(