THE BLOG
07/23/2013 04:03 pm ET Updated Sep 22, 2013

To My Donor, on Transplant Day

To my donor:

Today is a pretty big day. Today your stem cells become my immune system.

I like to imagine how you came to donate your stem cells. I feel like most don't even know they can. I certainly didn't...

I can imagine you hearing the pitch from a stem cell donor program or a blood cancer organization, being leveled by the need, compelled to participate and propelled by the ease of signing up.

I can imagine you feeling inspired by your faith or your empathy for others. I can picture you seeking out a way to get involved beyond a Thanksgiving food drive, teeming with excitement at the possibility of truly helping a stranger.

It's not out of the question that you donated on a whim, like a twenty into the church collection plate, an extra buck on the end of your grocery bill or some change at a red light. It's possible there was a drive at your university and signing up was easier than showing up for class. Perhaps you needed to fulfill a community service quota or were trying to impress a girl. For all I know, you were engaged in unseemly behavior on the Internet, when you saw a banner ad that inspired a change of heart and helped you clear your search history for good.

Then again, maybe the need for stem cells was already very real to you. It's definitely within the realm of possibility that blood cancer affected a close friend or took the life of a family member, and not knowing exactly how to help, you stumbled on the idea of donating your stem cells. Maybe, you've known struggle intimately; so you can quickly sense trouble in another. It is all together possible that you are the person that jumps in and rolls up your sleeves while the rest of us get lost in good intentions.

Regardless of how you came to donate your stem cells, you are my hero. You are my perfect match. My ten-out-of-ten. And from now on I want you to imagine what your simple gift has the power to accomplish in my life. I want you to imagine, what I can finally imagine -- a life beyond this cancer. I am in remission, and because of you, I stand a chance to stay here.

They say 90 percent of those diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma survive. But in my case they should call it Dodge-kin's Lymphoma, because it's been real busy dodging every damn thing I throw at it. I do not have ordinary Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I have been humbled time and time again. I need an allogeneic stem cell transplant. I need your stem cells. You are, reasonably speaking, my last resort. Without you, I would most certainly die young.

I could stop there, but I think I should go on.

With your stem cells, I have the opportunity to live -- a full and ordinary life. For two-plus years, I have given everything -- physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually -- to fight off this cancer. With your stem cells, my blinders may soon come off. When I look out I may once again see life in seasons instead of treatment regimens. I may once again imagine growing old, and stop imagining my own funeral. And my parents can stop imagining having to bury their own son.

With your stem cells, I can imagine life as an ordinary thirty-something. Back at work. Earning a salary. And writing about something other than life with cancer. With your stem cells, I can envision a life for my wife, Aura, where her work can once again be her passion, instead of our necessity.

With your stem cells, I can imagine a second chance at my first year of marriage and the dreamy possibility of my 50th year of marriage. I can see Aura and I sitting, talking and laughing, and suddenly realizing we haven't mentioned cancer for the entire evening. With your stem cells, in time, Aura and I can once again discuss having a family without trepidation. It fills my entire being with joy, to ponder the two of us, without urgency, laughing and living the dream together -- not weeks, but decades down the line -- surrounded by family, sustained by an unbowed love for each other and filled with a deep appreciation for all that life offers.

With your stem cells, I can sit here alone, confined to this room, on the night before my transplant, neutropenic, nauseous and suffering from some gnarly ass diarrhea, and feel hope welling up from deep within my marrow. Tomorrow, this very same hope will envelope your stem cells the second they become our stem cells. They say it will take a year or so for our cells to fully coalesce. In the mean time, I will work diligently to keep the faith and stay focused on the day I get to thank you in person. I am in remission, and because of you, I have the opportunity to stay here. I am humbled by what you have offered me -- regardless of whether it works.

With ALL of my love and gratitude,

Bret Hoekema