Big City, Big Heart – PBSC Donation in San Francisco

I am writing from day two of my five-day donor process. It’s not quite 9:00am yet and I sit in bed contemplating going down to the hotel restaurant in my pajamas, as pancakes sound good, but getting dressed does not. Don’t worry I am sure dignity will eventually win out and I will put on some actual clothes. Although apparently pants are not required in San Francisco as we saw yesterday.

    San Francisco:

And so first, a couple words about San Francisco. This is my first visit here. And if this was a personal family vacation I’d have the whole thing planned out full of tourist sites and activities, and a nearby modern chain hotel. But that is not the case. The accommodations were planned for us and the trip is not for tourist exploration, it is to potentially save a life. Although we will fit in whatever spontaneous fun we feel up to. First impressions: Flying in I was surprised by all the surrounding wooded areas. I’ve been in Southern California where the non-city areas are mostly dry hot desert. Here it is beautiful from the sky. Driving from the airport we saw some gorgeous hot pink flowers in this ground cover looking plant, and plush ivy grew along the freeway, climbing up trees and over the barriers. How does this ivy look so clean, like it has a waxed shine, when it is soaking up the dirt and exhaust from millions of vehicles everyday and yet the ivy in my yard could use a good dusting? Anyway, we first had to drive to a pharmacy in Millbrae where there was a prescription for an Epi-pen awaiting me. (This is a requirement in case there is an allergic reaction to the shot). I really like Millbrae – it was cute and clean. The first areas we saw were obviously the newer more suburban areas. As we got further into the city it looks more and more like the typical San Francisco views we see on film: hill after hill of townhouses stacked side by side like a million people trying to cram into 46 square miles. Oh yeah, that’s exactly what it is.

It did not take me long to realize that Caucasian is the minority here and it appears to be 60%-70% Asian people (at least that we’ve seen). Not that there is anything wrong with that. Just an observation. And it is good for us country girls to be around more culture, and to see what it is like to be surrounded by people who don’t look or talk like you. If you’ve never been to Idaho – it is very vanilla. A little more chocolate chip cookie dough-ish in Boise.

Our hotel here is a little less than perfect, but not a big deal. I just won’t be soaking in that old stained bath tub during our stay, or lounging by the outdoor pool on the roof visible to all on the busy street corner where the cold wind whips through. Overall its pretty cute. And the hotel restaurant may only serve hamburgers for lunch and dinner, but do offer some overpriced breakfast options in the morning, so that is convenient. We were also lucky enough to get a room in the perfect spot for late night noise and high volume foot traffic – near the elevator, ice machine and housekeeping laundry room. Sweet! But we can’t complain too much it will be fine. I was only woken up by noise once last night, which was down from the three times the night before. Whomever designed the hallway with the grooved tile floor was a real genius. Nothing like the sound of suitcase wheels hitting every grout line along the way at five in the morning.

    Stem Cell Donation:

So back to the bone marrow/stem cell donation stuff. Our nurse Jennifer comes to our hotel room each morning (how convenient is that?), and she is super nice, I totally love her. Yesterday she came, took some vitals, took a starting blood sample, gave me my first two shots in the back of the arm. They give me two because they are both tiny amounts and they don’t want too much given in any one spot so they change the location each day. Then that afternoon we met with the bone marrow donation office at UCSF Medical Center, also super nice people. Nurse Tom showed us where we need to go on Monday and took us to meet the hematologists. They looked at my arm veins to see if they are big enough to handle the tubes required or if I will need a central venous line. They slapped my veins around a little (not really) and said we’ll try it. They were super nice too. I love how everyone I meet is so appreciative that I am donating. They treat us very well. Nurse Tom asked if I knew anything about the patient and when I told him her disease was Fanconi Anemia, he said it was probably her last hope. He said it is a phenomenal gift I was giving and they always needed more people to donate. He told my mom she did something right in raising me and I swear to you his eyes teared up, which then of course made Mom and me tear up too. Nothing touches me more than seeing a man be emotionally touched by something. (I don’t get to see this often) My mom thinks the patient is here in the same medical center but I told her she could be anywhere in the world. I wonder if they fly it to her in a beer cooler like heart transplants? You certainly don’t want that getting lost via FedEx.

After UCSF, we had our driver drop us off at Fisherman’s Wharf. We walked around, bought a couple souvenirs and postcards and had dinner at the famous Alioto’s. It has been chilly here in San Fran; 60’s with a breeze and showers off and on, so when we sat looking over the pier with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, the sun shining in on us, it was heaven. Mom and I sat in silence for a long time. I zoned out, just staring at the sun shining off the water. It was peaceful. It was my favorite part of the day. I could sit like that for hours. And its a good thing because it took about that long for our food to get to us. But boy was it delicious. I had crab cannelloni and Mom had Risotto Alioto with a truffle sauce – to die for! And just when we were thinking our waiter wasn’t very dialed in to us, he came over and started chatting, asking where we from, etc. Mom started telling him our story of what we are here for and he was very interested. He said he was so impressed he was going to tell his girlfriend about it when he got home. Then he came back and gave us a free dessert on him. And at one point, even he looked like he was tearing up.

I’m telling you, I am feeling such love and humanity, hope and inspiration through this whole process. Just the way it makes people stop and think for a minute about helping each other, about giving of oneself, about sharing life or love with a stranger. When people hear of someone donating something so valuable and sacred to help a stranger’s life, they think it is honorable, but they also pause to think about would they do it? Would they be willing to give like that. They may have never thought of it before then. I think by me going through this process it has touched the lives of so many around me in little ways. And if every donor sees that in people around them – wow – what an impact making a difference can make. I know it is making me feel so good, like a super hero. I don’t have super powers, I can’t fight off bad guys, fly or lift a truck over my head, but my bone marrow produces healthy blood cells. I can share some and make some more blood tomorrow. How simple is that? The cure to someone else’s fatal disease could be in my stem cells. Of course they can have it. If someone told you the cure to their disease, the thing that could keep their child alive, was in your blood or marrow, wouldn’t you say have at it? It’s not like a kidney or organ we can’t live without – we can make more blood & marrow – we do it everyday. Be someone’s hero – go to BeTheMatch.org or http://www.marrow.org for more info. You can’t help if you’re not matched and you can’t be a match if you’re not on the registry. You could be on there for years and never get a call. But someday you could be someone’s lucky life-lotto ticket.

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