In 2008 I received a facebook message from my cousin. My cousin, whom I will call Sue, was someone I could safely refer to as a "facebook acquaintance". We hadn't seen each other since her grandmother's funeral a decade before and for several years prior to that. Our childhoods were intertwined with shared memories of shared people but our own adult relationship was very limited.
This facebook message was brief and to the point. Sue was dying of kidney failure and needed a transplant and if anyone of her friends or family wished to be considered a transplant donor, please call this number at the hospital for a donor interest package.
I am not sure what prompted me to pick up the phone and all the Transplant Unit that day but I did. There was that organ donor sticker that had been on my license since I first learned to drive and my personal horror of the idea that two little girls were facing a future without a mother but no matter what I picked up the phone and called. Of the two hundred people she sent that message to, only two of us did and the other never completed the process.
Becoming an organ donor is no easy feat. There are multiple medical tests to complete and more paperwork than applying for college. Every glitch in your family history is examined and the health of your parents and siblings reported and discussed. (An adoption note: An adoptee without birth parent contact would not even be considered). Everything from wanting to have more children to trying to predict your genetic predispositions for a variety of diseases is examined.
On top of that, I have yet to meet a potential donor that hasn't met a lot of resistance from family and friends. Other than from my husband who was unfailingly supportive of his nutty wife's plan, EVERYONE I spoke to questioned my decision and repeatedly asked me why. WHY? It wasn't like Sue was part of my life regularly? Why put my own health at risk? What about recovery? Why? Why? Why?
My only answer? I knew I had to. I knew deep in my soul I was supposed to walk this journey out. Deeply and with assurance I knew God was asking me to simply be willing. I do not say that lightly or flippantly. It was something outside of my own desires or plan and I knew, very peacefully, that I needed to be willing was to continue with the tests, fill out the forms and make my way to Vancouver for more invasive tests. Was it easy? No way! It took time I didn't really have and money that was tight. At times it was overwhelming and at times I questioned my own sanity. But I did it.
Most of you know how this story ends, at least for me. In that final test to be a kidney donor it was discovered I had kidney cancer. No symptoms and no signs. I would have never, ever known. The average life expectancy for those who are diagnosed with my form of kidney cancer? 4 months. FOUR MONTHS. You know why that is? It is because normally you don't find out you have kidney cancer until you have symptoms, and if you have symptoms, usually it is too late. Being willing to be a donor, that deep, calm knowing that I had to walk through the door saved my own life. Listening to that still small voice saved my life.
I have laid awake at night and wondered what would have happened if I had just not picked up the phone? What would have happened if I had forgotten to fill out the hundreds of pages of forms? What if the delay in booking an ultra sound turned into forever? What if I had been rejected because of my family history of diabetes? Sometimes the "what ifs" sneak in but mostly I am thankful I listened and obeyed.
At the very last step of the process, at literally the very last moment, I was eliminated from being a donor. Hearing the word "Cancer" that April day was not just devastating to me, but also to my cousin Sue and her family. What was blip (ok a giant speed bump) in my life was a death sentence for her. No transplant. No donor. No back ups.
Sue and her family were unfailingly gracious to me. Thankful that my life was saved. Thankful I had been willing to even try. I am sure they were devastated and scared for their own loved one, but they never ever placed any blame on to me. Life went back to normal for them as they waited and hoped for a donor while Sue had daily dialysis and struggled with ever failing health.
I came home and prepared for and then recovered from the surgery that saved my own life. Through it all I had the support of my friend Colleen. One day Colleen asked me for the number of the Transplant Unit. My response was very similar to that which my own friends and family had said to me.
"ARE YOU NUTS?"
Colleen had never met Sue and in fact had never even seen a picture of her. There was no connection, no obligation, no REASON. No reason except that Colleen too was hearing that still small voice that told her to walk through the door.
Yesterday Colleen gave her kidney to Sue. Within minutes that little one pound organ that brought me so much angst gave life again to Sue. Her willingness has given two little girls a mommy to raise them. Her willingness has given health to a woman who has not felt healthy in years.
And so I am thankful that I can write an end to this story that goes beyond myself. What is that still small voice asking you to do today? Are you willing? What will happen if you obey? What will happen if you don't?