Family

This woman donated bone marrow and saved a kid's life. She wants you to know some things.

Your body may have the cure for someone's cancer in it. It's time to let it out.

This woman donated bone marrow and saved a kid's life. She wants you to know some things.

Have you ever wondered what it's really like to donate bone marrow?

I have.

On the website Reddit, there's a thing called AMA, or Ask Me Anything. A bone marrow donor, Kristine Sydney, took to Reddit a while ago and told her story of submitting to be a donor, matching, and donating.


There's a lot of realtalk in there and a lot of really helpful real-world info about bone marrow donation.

Instead of mystery and assumptions of painfulness surrounding bone marrow donation, there was heroism. And the knowledge that my body might cure cancer!

Neat, huh?

So let's dive into Kristine's story, and find out nine key things she wants everyone to know about bone marrow donation.

1. If you're worried about the pain of the procedure ... don't worry!

GIF via "America's Funniest Videos."

I know I've thought, "I would love to register as a donor, but I don't like a lot of pain." (Does anyone?) "I can do blood donation, sure, but needle into my bone? NOT REALLY FEELIN' THAT."

Here's how the procedure felt in Kristine's words:

"Before the procedure, though I had read about other donors' experiences, it was impossible for me to anticipate how little or how much I would hurt afterwards. Before I left the hospital, the doctor told me explicitly not to lift heavy weights or go on a long run for several days - even if I felt little to no pain. 'It's still a surgical procedure,' she reminded me. My lower back/hip area was tender for three-four days but that was it and, if not for her warning, I would have returned to my regular activity a couple days after the procedure."

After reading this testimony (and this) my brain said ... sign up. But I was still skeptical.

2. The medical procedure could turn into a beautiful experience.


GIF via MLB.

It's true that if you do match, you'll undergo some medical procedures. But you also might wind up with some new friends for life.

One of the most popular questions of this web interview with Kristine was from the mother of the child Kristine's bone marrow helped.

"Hi Kristine, first off, thank you for saving my baby! What would you say to someone who is skeptical about signing up or perhaps fearful of donating their bone marrow & is only willing to donate plasma?"

Kristine's answer:

"Mia, I'm grateful you released your information. My life is transformed by Mailyna. For those who are still fearful, I'd suggest that they check out this Reddit, the AADP video, or even the picture of me the morning after the procedure. They should read up on what the process is actually like and not be scared away by the word 'donor.' Maybe a more appropriate, friendlier term is 'sharing.' The doctors took only less than 5% of my bone marrow, so my tiny, tiny, tiny gift, which was replenished, made that difference. It's like magic — truly — how the simplest of procedures and the tiniest of Band-Aids can save a life. I consider myself so lucky to have met your daughter and your family."

Mailyna's mom's reply?

"We adore you! You & Jake will forever be a part of our lives AND our family!"

Well now. That's great.

3. Donating doesn't take that long.

GIF via "Sesame Street."

Signing up only takes about 15 minutes. Then you swab your cheek and pop the swabs in the mail. That might be all. If you get a call as a match, there's a 25% chance you'll move to the donating phase.

Kristine details what happens next:

"After you get the initial call, you go and get some blood drawn to see whether you're a good enough/perfect match. If you are the best bet, you then go for a full physical, which includes getting more blood drawn, a urine analysis, a chest x-ray, and an EKG. If you are healthy enough to give bone marrow, you wait to hear when your recipient is ready to begin chemotherapy. In the best way, being told that you are a donor is getting a gold star for being in good shape, for being healthy."

After the donation:

"It's usually an out-patient process or an overnight stay. I stayed overnight (because of nausea from the anaesthesia.) I checked out of the hospital after breakfast the next morning."

4. You don't have to be a superhero to do it.

GIF via TotalFilm.

Kristine is clearly a cool lady, but she's not, like, Mr. Rogers or Batman or anything.

"I didn't think twice about donating, and now that I've done it and I've met Mailyna, I do feel that there is a human, compassionate obligation to register and then to donate. There isn't any reason not to do it. If you're eligible to donate, you are the lucky one, because your being chosen means that you're healthy and you're literally carrying someone's cure in your blood. What a gift it is to get the call."

5. There are plenty of good reasons to donate.

How about doing it to honor someone you lost? That's what Kristine did.

"I was mourning the loss of my former student Elizabeth, who had died exactly a month before I signed up. She died of brain cancer and, on my walk home from work, I saw a poster with pictures of children, all ethnic minorities, who needed to find a match. I signed up to honor Elizabeth, who was only a college sophomore, a child, when she died. ... I registered anyway, with the hope that, if I were picked, I could, perhaps, help another child."

6. Still think it's painful? Nah.

GIF via "America's Funniest Videos."

I wanted to address the pain thing again because it was a big concern of mine.

The procedure for those who donate is usually an outpatient process or overnight stay. Kristine said she stayed overnight due to nausea from the anesthesia. And the pain? She described it like this:

"(Like) pressing into your lower back with your thumb — with medium pressure only ... for about three or four days."

Everyone do that now. Go on...

Not too bad, right? I've danced a little too hard at a wedding and felt worse pain, and the result of that dance was NOT curing someone's cancer with my body!

7. She didn't have to pay for the medical care.

GIF via "Little Rascals."

The pre-screening for bone marrow donation (and this is if you match) is a full physical: blood tests, urine analysis, chest x-ray, and an EKG.

Good news. The National Marrow Donor Program paid for everything in Kristine's case.

"The National Marrow Donor Program, which operates Be the Match (the organization with which I signed up), paid for everything, from hospital stay to the hotel room to my dinner the night before the procedure. They took care of everything."

8. You don't have to know where your marrow goes if you don't want to.

GIF via "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."

Some people worry they'll feel bad if they donate and the recipient doesn't survive.

Whoa. Realtalk express, coming into the station here.

Firstly, the point is not to be Superman, but to take a chance and take the opportunity. And if that doesn't assuage your qualms, the whole shebang is VERY anonymous.

"The donation process is still anonymous. We were not allowed to exchange any information about ourselves until a year after the transplant. In fact, any correspondence I sent was first screened by the Rhode Island Blood Center to make sure that I did not share anything specific about myself (name, location, where I worked.) "

You're anonymous from the start. That's very important.

"In early May, a year after the transplant, my recipient and I were asked whether we wanted to release our information to each other. We both said "yes" and, in a moment of synchronicity, Mailyna's mother Mia had hit "send" on an e-mail the second I dialed her number. In July, the Asian American Donor Program (AADP) flew my husband and me out to California where we met for the first time at Kaiser Permanente where she had been treated."

After some time, recipients and donors can choose to release their info to each other. There's no pressure to do it, but for Kristine, meeting her recipient clearly had a big impact on her.

9. Bone marrow can essentially cure some types of cancer.

Seriously? GIF via "Empire."

Your body may have the cure for cancer in it! How cool is that!

Kristine states it perfectly:

"How amazing it is that another human body literally has the potential to be someone else's cure... It's hard for me, even now, to wrap my mind around it."

This online interview with Kristine had a huge impact on me.

Not because I need bone marrow or even because I know someone who does.

It's personal to me because while I'm a blood donor, I was kinda squeamish about signing up to be a bone marrow donor. It just seemed like signing up for the most painful, paperworky, awkward, and (again) painful experience of life.

I was so wrong.


GIF via "High School Musical."

So while I was writing this, I went to www.aadp.org/homekit and asked for a kit in the mail!


"When I met Mailyna, I also met Myla, another girl who is looking for her perfect match. I wish so badly that any of the people who need bone marrow would get a call saying, 'Hi. We've activated your match.'"

I'm sharing this because this one Reddit conversation changed my mind about becoming a bone marrow donor.

And in this case, changing someone's mind could save someone's life.

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."