When we were growing up, my brother, Mike, was always small for his age, with a big ol’ soft heart that was always twice his size. He loved people, loved helping them, loved hanging around and just being a part of a group. Unfortunately, we went to a tiny school that had its fair share of bullies, and for reasons I’ve yet to understand, Mike became a target. Probably because he also had a spine and would stand up to people three times his size. If you’ve ever seen a Chihuahua nose-to-nose with a Great Dane, you’ve seen my kid brother in action.
I don’t remember a single time Mike ever complained. There were times when he was losing enthusiasm for team sports, but we thought it was more about the fact that he was so little, he didn’t have much playing time. It turned out, he was having trouble with some of the bigger guys on the team hazing/bullying the little guys. Primarily him.
We discovered this one evening when I couldn’t find him after school. He played on the middle-school (jr. varsity) football team, and they had practice at the same time that I did (dance team), which worked out well for my parents, since I could drive us home. Only, I couldn’t find him. Everyone else had left already by the time I realized something terrible was going on, and the rest of that evening is a blur. I couldn’t get into the school to call my parents (seriously, everyone had gone home), and I wasn’t sure what to do. Somehow, I managed to get to a phone and some hours later, my dad found him; he’d been beaten up by a couple of kids in school and left in a ravine in the far back acres of the school property. The father of one of the boys was on the school board, and the other one had a lot of clout. Nothing, we knew, was going to be done.
Now, some people would have dug into a shell and quit; others would have become bitter; others would have emulated the bullies and turn mean out of self-preservation. Mike didn’t do any of those. He stayed positive and upbeat. He asked if he could take Karate, and mom and dad found him a place to take his first lessons. (It wasn’t that great of a school–more of an excuse for the teacher to beat up students–but he stuck with it.) He kept taking until he grew and grew and became a black belt. He found the International Tang Soo Do Federation (ITF) and joined it so that he could take lessons from people who were real Masters at the art, and whose philosophy was more about being a peaceful person, rather than vengeance. He took it upon himself to go to our local park system and start classes for kids who couldn’t afford the more expensive schools, and taught hundreds–if not a couple of thousand–students through that system until budget cuts forced that program to end.
He kept taking lessons, progressing upward to second, then third, then fourth, and now fifth degree black belt. He has his own school, [Zachary Karate], and he’s taught–and counseled–more than 3000 kids.
Most of what he teaches is about believing in yourself. Learn to defend yourself when necessary, but also learn that your self-worth is not caught up in what other people think or say or do. Your value has nothing to do with outer expectations, but who you are, within, and how you act. I can’t even count the number of parents who’ve come back to him to tell him he saved their kids–they were depressed, lost, scared, or going off the rails with rebellion. He just has a knack for reaching them. And he’s tireless about it.
He’s also a World Champion in Sparring (2007 I think); he finally quit competing nationally because he’d never lost. Not once.
He’s got the heart of a lion, and the gentleness of a lamb. If anyone has ever needed help, he’d be there. I cannot tell you how often I’ve heard stories of him dropping everything he had going on because someone needed help.
He’s a hero, to me. Always has been.
He also has an extremely rare form of gamma/delta t-cell lymphoma. It’s extremely aggressive, and he almost died last September.
Right now, he’s in remission. We are over-the-moon about that, but the reality is, this is such an aggressive form of lymphoma, that he’s going to have to have a bone-marrow transplant in order to survive. (Actually, they don’t transplant the bone marrow any more–they transplant the stem cells. Much much much easier on the donor and way more effective on the recipient.)
Without this transplant, it is highly likely this type of lymphoma will return; it will have very likely mutated, which will make it more difficult for them to attack it with the same chemo, so it’ll be an experiment to adjust. With a transplant, however, he’d could easily live another twenty or thirty years.
What he needs, in essence, is a hero. Someone who matches the HLA cells. (Complete strangers can match. In fact, it’s far far more common for complete strangers to match. There’s a lot of biology-speak that should probably go here to explain why, but I am not a doctor, and will likely get something wrong.)
To donate stem cells in this day and age is actually fairly easy and painless. To add yourself to the donor databanks (if you’re eligible to be a donor) is so easy (and free), it’s amazing. Simply go to www.bethematch.com and look at their short checklist to see if you’re eligible; if you are, they’ll send you a FREE kit where you simply swab the inside of your cheek and send it back. That’s it. You’re in the donor database.
Now, you’re not promising you’ll do it. You’re just saying you’ll consider it if you come up as a match for someone. If you are able and willing at that time, they’ll schedule the simple procedure around your life/schedule, and the recipient’s insurance pays for the process.
You can save a life.
You might not be Mike’s hero, but you could very easily be someone’s hero. For only a few hours of your time, if you’re a match.
And someone out there will match my brother. Someone out there will enable him to keep on teaching kids, keep on being a hero. How amazing is that?
So today, I am asking you, please be a hero and do these two things:
1) tweet or FB (or both) the link: www.bethematch.com
2) check to see if you’re eligible and send off for the kit, do the swab, and turn it in.
I know not everyone can be a donor. There are a lot of health issues and/or age that may prevent you, but if you’d help us get people into the databanks, you could help save lives.
As a thank you (and really, there is just no way to thank you enough) — if you share the information, let me know in the comments section. If you’re eligible to do the kit, that’s fabulous, but even if all you can do is share the links and encourage others, I want to show my appreciation. All your names will go into a hat and from that, I’ll pick two winners; I have several original photographs framed on canvas and I’ll let the winners choose one of them; it’ll be signed and an exclusive to you. OR – if the winners would rather not have a signed photo (my feelings will not be hurt, truly) — you could choose a $100 gift certificate to an online store of your choice (as long as I can email the certificate.) I’ll also give away two runner-up prizes of $50 each for a gift certificate to any online store of your choice (as long as I can email you the gift certificate.) [For this contest, I have to limit entrants to US citizens. I’ll do something new for the rest of you next time, I promise.]
So let me know, below, if you’ve shared the links and/or sent off for the kit. Or tell me if you’ve ever had any experience with bullies and what you think was the best piece of advice you ever got?
(Here are the photo choices…)