The majority of my life I’ve struggled with fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of pain, fear of doctors and dentists, fear of swallowing pills. I would spend needless hours worrying about upcoming doctor’s visits, a blood draw the next morning and the turbulence I would surely experience on my next flight. Fear and worry consumed me.
Eventually I found the perfect coping mechanism: avoidance. I simply didn’t schedule those medical appointments. I wouldn’t put myself in situations that could possibly result in pain, no matter how temporary or unlikely that pain might be. I found ways around confronting my fear.
During the summer of 2015, my husband, Darin, and I planned an epic adventure to Europe to celebrate 10 years of marriage. He packed sleeping pills to help me through the anxiety of being thousands of miles in the air over the Atlantic. On the last night of our trip, we were in a hotel room in Paris getting ready for bed when my cell phone rang. My baby brother’s name was on the caller ID. My heart lurched into my chest as my overactive fearmongering brain went into overdrive. We were in Europe…my family would not call unless there was an emergency.
When I answered I simply said, “What’s happened?”
Our brother, Brian, was in the hospital. A couple weeks earlier he had shown our mom his legs covered in little red dots: broken blood vessels. Being a nurse, my mom knew this meant his body had undergone some sort of trauma. She told him to visit Urgent Care. Various blood tests later, he was told to admit himself to the local hospital immediately. There he was diagnosed with Leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow. The blood cells his marrow was producing were cancerous.
I’m a match
Two days later, I drove to a Denver hospital to be with my family. Brian’s treatment options were limited. He had an aggressive form of Leukemia (Acute Myloid Leukemia) and they needed to find a bone marrow match. Siblings are the best chance—25 percent—of being a match. A quick cheek swab and a couple weeks later, we learned I was that match.
I could feel God’s hand working. Fear and happiness overcame me. I wanted to help my brother, but I was terrified. What pain would I go through? But I had been watching Brian—a catheter in his chest, chemo pulsing through his veins, an unknown future ahead of him—and I was inspired by his strength and positivity. “I choose to fight this and live,” he had told me. I knew I needed to be more like him.
Isa. 41:10 came to mind: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (NIV). God was already fulfilling this promise in Brian’s life. It was time I embraced it too.
More than conquerors
I would donate stem cells through apheresis. The process would require a battery of blood tests to make sure I was 100 percent healthy and then four days of injecting myself with a growth hormone to help my body produce more stem cells. Friends and family gave me the injections. The only side effect: severe body aches. While donating I would need to be aware of my body. If my lips began to feel numb or my body felt tingly, I needed to tell the nurse, because that meant my potassium levels were too low and I might pass out or worse, have a seizure.
Two days before Thanksgiving, fear coursing through my body, I was admitted to the hospital and settled in my room. My nurse, Neil, whom I believe God picked out just for me, inserted needles into my arms. I sat perfectly still for five hours watching as blood pumped out one arm and into a machine where the stem cells were removed, and then the blood and extra potassium were pumped back into my other arm. The goal was five million stem cells.
At one point, I could feel my vein giving up. It started seizing and the machine rang out with alarm bells, letting Neil know something was wrong. He attempted to
readjust the needle in my giving arm. He wiggled it around, pulled it out and placed it back in my arm, trying to get that vein to work again.
We didn’t collect enough stem cells the first day, so I returned the next day to donate again. More needle pricks and four more hours and I was done. My stem cells were hooked up to Brian’s IV and pumped into his body.
Through God’s reassurance and my love for my brother, I survived two of my worst fears: pain and the unknown. Brian has been cancer free for one year now. My stem cells are pumping through his body, helping him live. All his cells are my cells. That is a powerful thing.
Fear still pops up at the most inopportune moments, but I am able to look forward and see there is nothing I cannot conquer when I have a loving God and family at my side.