Health It's Just A Cheek Swab

It’s Just a Cheek Swab.

How many of us have gone to an event sponsored by a family in support of a loved one, or chance upon a vendor table at a Jewish fair that asks for

Just a cheek swab?

If you live in my neighborhood, these are common occurrences.

You could be the match, they say.
That chance to save a life, you are told.
It could be you.
It is a painless, three second test, the person behind the table implores.

Chances are, if you showed up to the event, or even if you just pass the table, you had no intention of saying no to the test. Chances are, you didn’t think all that much about getting the call. If you are me, you are thinking,

Ok, I’ll give you my cheek swab. It’s not like you’ll ever call me. What are the odds, really?
When you reach my age (let’s just say, older than is ideal for this type of thing), you are not expecting to ever hear about it again. It isn’t as if I know too many people who have donated bone marrow.

I must have gone to the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Drive about 6 years ago. I could probably ask Ana, my coordinator. Ana knows everything, from my current actual weight, to the weight I give on my forms, to my blood pressure, to what I ate this morning. I am sure she knows the exact date I gave my cheek swab, and for whom the bone marrow drive was named.

In the last four weeks since I got the call, (I sometimes say I was sounds sort of secret servicey….) Ana and I have spoken almost daily and usually 3 or 4 times a day. I am trying not to get too attached, because I know that soon she will move on and I will be just another cotton swab.

The first call, the one that came on Friday, December 12 2014, actually came from Gail. Gail was my first contact. Gail called to tell me I was a potential match. In fact, there was only a 30% chance I would be a match for the patient for whom I was identified. That 30% did not really impress me as being much of a chance. I mean,

What is 30%?
If one of my kids came home with a 30% on a test, I would not be impressed. Not that grades are the most important thing, of course, but you understand.
Without thinking much about it, and without actually listening to Gail’s entire speech (which lasted a good 10 minutes) about the procedure, should I be a match, and all of that.
I just said, Sure, I’ll go for the blood test to see if I really am a match.
Because come on…30%? Give me something to work with here. I was not thinking much of this whole thing at all.

Gail was lovely, and I know she could tell I wasn’t completely listening. She asked me if I’d be willing to go Monday, the 15th for the blood test very near my house.
Sure, no problem.
It will take 5 minutes?
Just a few tubes of blood?
Only a 30% chance, you say?
You got it.
I mentioned it in passing to the husband, who was momentarily interested, and when he heard the 30% statistic, he also faded. I mean, wouldn’t you?

Monday came and I went to the office. I skipped out at 1, sashayed into the lab and announced, I’m the donor!  just as Gail had instructed. Interestingly, the bored looking woman behind the counter hopped up, pulled me to the head of the line, and produced a kit with my name on it.
Might be only a 30% chance, but this is some VIP treatment right here.
I’ve seen people wither away to nothing waiting for their turn at these labs.
I was taken to the room immediately, told what a wonderful thing I was doing, as I explained the 30%. Haven’t done anything yet. This is just a blood test, blah blah blah….and she just smiled at me.

“Do you have any idea what it means for the family?” she asked as she cleaned up the paraphernalia.

Um. No, actually. No, I don’t. I hadn’t given it any thought. That whole 30% thing.
Of course, then I started to think about it, but dang if that 30% didn’t keep getting in the way.

The next day was Tuesday the 16th. Four days since the first time Gail called me. I wondered briefly when I’d hear from her, but then I remembered (one of the few things besides the 30% that stuck in my memory) that it might be up to 3 months before I knew anything. I decided to let it go (being all zen-yoga-like, I am very good at letting things go), and I went to see my first private client of the day.

As I finished with my client, I noticed a voicemail on my phone, from a Florida number.
Well, that was odd.
That is the same number that Gail called me from, but Gail was pretty certain I wasn’t going to hear anything for quite a while, so it couldn’t possibly be her.
The message was from Regina.
I have something very important to discuss with you right away regarding your blood tests. Please call me as soon as you can.
What? Important? Blood test? OMG, I must have a disease.
Why else would they be calling? And where on earth is GAIL? I need to speak to Gail. Gail is my contact person. Who is Regina?
Not-so-ZenGirl was in a tizzy.

The husband said that they must have found something wrong with me.
I told him to BE QUIET. (So WHAT if I was thinking the same thing??)
I called Regina with great calm and left her a message. Then I pretended to work.
Regina called me quickly and breathlessly told me that not only was I a match, I am the most perfect match anyone there had ever seen from a non family member. I am not really sure what that means, but she was very excited. Because I was such a gorgeous magnificent match. She just could not wait for Gail to come back from wherever she had gone off to.

I was somewhat confused and mumbled something like, 30%! Blood done only yesterday! Am I sick?!
Regina was able to decode my babble and said that, no, I am not sick with some rare disease, her urgency was due to the fact that the patient is very ill and marked as urgently in need.
But what about the 30%?
Oh that. Never mind that, it no longer applies.

I am a match. I am THE match.

To Be Continued…

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About the author

Alyssa Gilbert

Alyssa Gilbert

Alyssa lives in the Five Towns with her husband, four kids, 2 dogs and a cat. She loves all things zen and yoga and has just finished school to become a PT.

Alyssa encourages everyone to get their cheeks swabbed and potentially save another's life. For more info, please visit

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