12/12/2014 05:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Life-Saving Perfect Match



In 1999 we went looking for a bone marrow donor for my 5-year-old daughter. The wait was agonizing. Friends and family rallied to start bone marrow drives that were advertised in our local papers and in newsletters across our city. Luckily, 3 weeks into our search we were told her only full sibling was as close to a perfect match as they could identify. We had been told the chances of finding a sibling match were about 20% or slightly less, we were ecstatic.

Fast forward to today, where with social media we can get the word out quickly to help others who may be facing similar circumstances. Take Andrea. I posted on Andrea's search for a bone marrow donor and 24 hours later through the help of Facebook and friends, family and others who shared her story a whopping 7,952 people had seen the post. Imagine what happens if it is seen by more than 7,952. Not only do we increase the odds for Andrea but for potentially every person waiting for a bone marrow, stem cell or cord blood transplant patient in the world. We put accurate information in the hands of the readers in real time.

When life hands her lemons, Andrea Kenney makes pink lemonade cupcakes. Andrea is a 27-year old, married, foster mom of two, who among other things, is a trained baker, Mormon, and cup-half-full girl.  Andrea is also, fighting cancer for the 4th time.

These photos are the chemotherapy currently being used to fight Andrea's AML (Acute Myelogenous Leukemia) and the swabs that were used to sample the inside of Andrea's mouth - to check her HLA typing. Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) is a protein - or marker - found on most cells in our bodies. Andrea's HLA is being tested to begin the search for a donor in preparation for a stem cell transplant. The best transplant outcomes occurs if Andrea's HLA, and her perspective donor's HLA are closely matched.

Today, Andrea hopes her HLA testing will match yours. She hopes a donor will be found that will in fact, be a perfect match, a life saving perfect match. Andrea is no stranger to the transplant world, also no stranger to chemotherapy and its life saving results. You see, Andrea has been through this before.

I met Andrea when she was hospitalized in Seattle  undergoing her first transplant, now four years ago. What was and remains remarkable about Andrea is her sparkling determination, courage and her seemingly endless ability to tap in to positive side of almost everything.

Andrea is not fact-deficient, nor is she in denial about what her future may hold. During a conversation with her we talked about hope and its immeasurable power in situations such as hers. In the middle of the conversation Andrea looked at me and said, "Come on Michelle, we know where this is going, one day cancer will surely take my life, that is just the way it is, but until then, I am gonna just keep living my life."  That was four years ago and since that time she has gotten married, finished culinary school with an emphasis in baking and, become a foster mother to two children. All this, while weaving through lingering and often difficult post-transplant side effects.

While having cancer for the fourth time is fact, the unlikely consequence is metastatic optimism.  As evidenced on her blog, the day Andrea chose to share her new diagnosis with the world she posted (and to quote Joyce Meyer): "Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may have been given a cactus, but you don't have to sit on it. " Andrea's optimism is infectious.

In her book, The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD and researcher on happiness explains, the components affecting happiness can be divided up like pieces of a pie: "A natural 'set point' that you are born with (50%), life circumstances (10%) and intentional activity (40%)."

According to Lyubomirsky , Andrea's rock solid faith, would fall into the category of  "intentional activity" and thanking God and counting blessings is exactly that. The ability to tap into all that is good in your life, including the love and support of others, generally being thankful for all you have been given, (the good the bad and the sometimes ugly) is key to a happy life. Interestingly, if only 10% of our happiness can be attributed to life circumstance then Andrea is a true testament to that. She doesn't let a little cancer get in the way of her "happy."

There is much to be learned from Andrea and her family and I will write more as time goes on, but what Andrea needs from us most right now is an HLA match. If you have not become a candidate for stem cell, bone marrow or cord blood transplant donation, please visit to find how you can be the life saving perfect match for Andrea.