Tag Archives: personal experience

Why you should join the bone marrow registry

Tomorrow my brother Brian would have turned 31. When he was 25, he died of leukemia. I was his bone marrow donor.

He was a quiet and smart person. He was working on his doctorate in computer engineering when he got his diagnosis. He liked computer gaming and anime and was a complete geek without caring at all about the designation. He first introduced me to chaos when I was in high school by showing me the logistic map. “That’s nice,” I said, and went on to other things, only to take up research in the field after his death. He played racquetball somewhat poorly; he was too laid back and unaggressive to play as boldly as the game required. He wore Hawaiian shirts and shorts year round. He liked to be different and to ignore the puzzlement of others. He once had a bad review as a TA because he failed to button his shirt. He was 6’5″ and looked like a viking.

When he got sick he lost his hair and his burliness. He didn’t complain. I donated marrow stem cells once, and some other cell in a similar procedure another time. I complained a lot. He kept trying to work on his research. His greatest vexations in the hospital were getting switched rooms constantly and the poor quality of internet access. When things went bad he entered hospice, again, without drama. His gums would bleed, he was covered with bruises and he hallucinated often. It never broke his spirit. He kept watching anime and kept playing computer games and didn’t complain. He was obviously often upset; once when they made him switch rooms he was so frazzled he cried. But he didn’t complain and he did his best to be helpful to the nurses and document his medication well. Leukemia does not define my memories of my brother but it certainly curtailed them.

Not everyone has the luck to have a bone marrow donor when they need one.  When I was matched with my brother, I was told there is only a 25% likelihood of matching for each pair of siblings. The odds of matching go down significantly beyond sibling relationships. A little less than 50% of marrow donations in 2006 came from a non family member. Matches can be especially hard to find for minorities. We need more donors.

So join the bone marrow registry at marrow.org. It is totally free to join, and you are eligible if you are between 18 and 60 (I tried to look if this extends beyond the US; it should, but I couldn’t find it on their website). They will send you a free kit with several q-tips. You swab your cheeks with the q-tips and then send them back.

There is a 1 in 540 chance you will be selected to donate, but even then, you are not required to do so. When you donate, they sometimes still draw marrow from the hip like you may have seen in TV shows. More often, the donor is given a drug for several days that causes marrow stem cells to circulate in the blood stream. Then they draw blood and separate out those stem cells, and put the rest back. It’s a lot like giving blood except the procedure takes a few hours. If you have more questions, marrow.org has a lot of helpful information. Please join, and thanks!

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Girls in boys sports: My experience playing boys water polo

A few days ago, I read about an 11-year-old girl in Philadelphia who has been kicked off her football team because and only because she is a girl. It is a Catholic league, so technically they may discriminate as they wish. The archdiocese says they wish to prevent her injury. I was dismayed to see comments on various websites that many people agree with this decision. I have also heard similar rationales for not allowing women in combat.

First off, the obvious stuff. The girl, Caroline Pla, is 5’3″ and 110 pounds. This is above average for an 11-year-old. She has played for years and played well. There are undoubtedly boys smaller than her, so we know her size is not the issue. Yes the boys will be getting bigger, but she probably will too. Does anybody think Holley Mangold (sister of NFL player Nick Mangold), who played football in Ohio and is an Olympic weightlifter, was too small? Men and women both come in large and small. But by this logic, all men and big and strong, and all women are small and weak.

I played boys water polo in high school. It was called boys water polo, even though football was not called boys football. This was because in other states, there was girls water polo, but not in the state of Missouri. In college I also played on a men’s team. Now there is a women’s team where I live, and I play women’s water polo.

As a girl playing water polo, I was often not welcomed either. The year after I graduated high school, one of my teammates told the school paper he didn’t believe girls should play because they weren’t strong enough and could get hurt. I was shocked when I read it. I am 5’10” and 160 pounds– I was one of the tallest and fastest players on the team and the only lefty. I had a weak arm, but I did other things well. Our varsity team only had nine players. The game requires seven to play, and many of the other teams had whole lines of substitutes. We had two substitutes. But one of my teammates felt strongly enough that girls should not play on a team lacking players that he agreed to be quoted in the paper.

In high school and college I often dealt with hostility. I was once extensively groped by an opposing player in a way that had nothing to do with gameplay. (Players often say that we make “friends” when gameplay results in intimate contact.) He failed to stop even after I asked him to stop. Fortunately, much of the action in water polo is underwater and invisible to the refs, and I delivered a well-placed kick. Often opposing teams immediately pegged me as the weakest despite the fact that I was not the smallest. Players often didn’t bother to guard me as tightly. But my teammates had subtle yet obvious biases too. Even when I was unguarded, they often would not pass me the ball. One of my teammates (who was otherwise a friend) felt it his duty to yell at me every time I failed to score if I shot. When I did score, the whole pool would gasp, which was simultaneously gratifying and annoying.

Missouri had only 18 high school teams when I played, and thus water polo should have been clamoring for all the participants they could. But that was not the case. Some of the schools had reputations of being hostile to girls, without officially disallowing them. For the good of the boys and girls and the sport, realistically water polo in Missouri and many places can use anyone it can get.

Despite all this, I did and still do love water polo. I never for a moment considered quitting polo. I liked playing against bigger and faster players and testing my limits. I once played against a training mate of Michael Phelps. What pains me most I think is all the girls who never played because of the nonsense. I knew plenty of girls who would have played water polo, but they didn’t want to play with the boys. They were smaller or just didn’t care for the stigma of it. There were a couple other girls on the team with me too. Even if we formed a girl’s team, there were no other girls teams to play. Out east, I play women’s polo now. It’s awesome to be among the biggest and fastest and strongest with the girls, and I can play a different style of game. But there are gameplay merits to each game, and I wish it would just boil down to that.

Both girls and boys should be encouraged to play sports, and we should not be telling girls or boys that all boys are stronger than all girls. We should retire the phrase “throw like a girl”. Girls should play contact sports if they wish to, and they should have their own leagues too. Water polo gives me a new appreciation for the power of my own body; in this age of image obsession and eating disorders, we should give more girls the opportunity to appreciate their bodies. Why should Caroline Pla not play the sport she loves?