A little more than two months ago, my family’s life was altered one quiet Sunday afternoon.
My sister, Mikayla, had run a 5K the day before and was barely able to finish, which was odd because before that she could probably run a 5K in her sleep.
For the previous three months, she had become more and more fatigued, short of breath and bruised every day. Finally, my family was able to convince her it was time to see a doctor and find out what was wrong.
The first hospital she was at immediately transferred her to Gundersen Lutheran in La Crosse, saying her blood counts were the lowest they had ever seen. There they poked and prodded her trying to discover what was wrong, putting us on a roller coaster of health issue possibilities.
They continued running tests for nearly a week as they ruled out various cancers and blood disorders including leukemia. During this time, she stayed in the hospital receiving blood transfusions and platelets to make up for what her body wasn’t making, which was the major side effect of the health issue she was having.
Finally they stopped providing possibilities and gave my sister a diagnosis of severe aplastic anemia.
Aplastic anemia is an autoimmune disease that causes bone marrow failure, meaning her bone marrow was no longer producing red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets, putting her at risk for infection and blood loss.
The only cure for aplastic anemia is a bone marrow transplant, which we were told a person should have a match for every one million people tested.
Unfortunately, Mikayla’s bone marrow is rare and there was only one match in the world out of the 26 million registered bone marrow donors. Even though this person was a match, it wasn’t ideal because of several factors that could harm Mikayla’s health further. The doctors instead opted for treating her aplastic anemia until a match can be found.
She was treated two months ago, and we are now waiting for her treatment to put the aplastic anemia into remission. The entire process could take up to three months and may not even work.
In the meantime, she is getting blood transfusions and platelets every week to make up for what her bone marrow isn’t producing.
Now it is an agonizing waiting game to see what the next few months will bring.
For these last few months, I have been trying to find a way to put all of this down on paper. Every week since it happened, this topic has been on my list, but I instead opted for a different topic.
I have been avoiding the subject because it is something I don’t enjoy reliving, but I have come to realize that something like this never gets easier. It never stops hurting.
As I wrangle with my own personal struggles, I am amazed at how my sister has handled it all.
I just don’t know how she does it. Every week she has to go to La Crosse or Madison to get tests done, all while waiting for someone to be her match. She does all of this with poise and strength beyond her years.
She, along with the help of our family, have also been working on adding people to the bone marrow donor registry to help other people like herself.
Every day I grow more proud of her as she fights this sudden change in health.
With all of this stuff going on, my sister and I have been getting a lot closer. It’s like aplastic anemia has stripped away our old selves and placed our relationship in a much deeper place.
We used to only talk to each other in sarcasm, one of our best and yet worst traits. Our relationship drifted apart when we moved to Ohio, but today I feel like it is stronger than ever.
While I don’t wish it took aplastic anemia to get us to this point, I am glad we did eventually get here. I don’t think I would have ever forgiven myself if we hadn’t.
As a family, we are optimistic that Mikayla will recover from this. Until then, we will continue to smile and cry in an attempt to put on a brave face.
Sometimes it amazes me how some things have to take you to your knees for you to realize what is important in life.