The room was expansive, sprawling with people from around the world who recruit potential bone marrow donors and then coordinate most of the world’s bone marrow donations. Even people from Ulm, Germany, the ancestor of New Ulm, Minnesota sat in the back corner. And among the world map of tables were a few in the front packed tightly with my dearest family and friends.
Maxine and I were in separate “green rooms,” being held apart for just a few more minutes. Amid the excited anticipation, a few TV interviews immediately preceding our meet allowed me to focus. The reporters asked me to contemplate what it was like finding Maxine, hoping she would come through for me. I remembered the anxiety and the waiting, the feelings of doom and hope, the family and the strangers were. I was rehearsing all the highlights and penciled notes in the margins that I had marked in my latest cancer chapter, like I was studying for the test of meeting Maxine.
It was time. I waited backstage while a video played to the audience, retelling that cancer chapter. I couldn’t pay attention. I was trying to figure out which door Maxine sat behind. And just like that, the video was over and Be The Match’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dennis Confer called me to the stage. I think everyone stood. He asked me some questions and I answered. Then they played Maxine’s video. In it she wondered why what she did was such a big deal. “I would like to believe anyone in my situation would have done the same thing,” she said.
And then, I swear Dr. Confer’s voice was like the voice of God when he boomed, “Jenna, meet Maxine.”
I surveyed the room frantically trying to figure out which door from which she would emerge. Maybe the ceiling? Or a trap door? By the time I saw her, she had only made it about halfway to the stage. The room was so big. I never imagined indulging the old run and hug, but I couldn’t help it. I awkwardly flung myself at her and she let me. She looked just like I thought she would. Her embrace felt familiar as I latched my cheek on to hers. “It’s you!” she said.
It was more than Maxine that overwhelmed. It was the entire room. It was the coterie of Be The Match-ers before me who have built a registry that let me and so many others find their match, their shot at life. It was the other cancer patients and transplant recipients who went before me, each case an experiment in building the medical knowledge to treat successfully today. It was the patient advocates who made sure I had health insurance and long-term disability rights. It was the Rhode Island Blood Center workers who had done the work my family ached to do in coordinating all the logistics that went into Maxine’s donation. And it was those two tables of people I love so much and who love me right back, no matter what I put them through.
Gratitude is perhaps the best word to describe it all. And now, we’re moving on. The best part is Maxine will be a part of my forthcoming chapters.
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