Blood Brother

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I had it all—or thought I did—until the fatal lymphoma.

At 55, I was happy in my marriage and at the top of my career. I awoke one morning with what I thought was a kidney infection. My shocking diagnosis: Mantle Cell Lymphoma, fatal, unless I received a bone marrow transplant.

Blood Brother tells of my struggle with this devastating blood cancer and my desperate search for the one person in the world who might save my life—Johnny, my brilliant, off-the-grid, tripped-out brother who’d vanished thirty years earlier.

Blood Brother is the story of curing an incurable cancer and of the inexplicable events that led to finding a man who never wanted to be found. It also explores what it means to forgive, the definition of family, and how to embrace a glorious second chance at life.


January, 2006

IN THE COOL WINTER SUN, I sit on a slab of limestone at the north shore of the San Francisco Bay, one long block from my home. I wait for the call from Dr. Greyz, my oncologist. The seaweed smells briny. The rocking movement of the green water comforts me. The crown of Mount Tamalpais is shrouded in clouds. It could rain tonight. In my pocket, I toy with a pewter coin inscribed with the words, “All Shall Be Well.” In my other hand, my cell phone buzzes. It’s Dr. Greyz.

“I am glad to have got you.” Her quirky Ukrainian syntax is, as always, amusing, but her words are clipped. “The news, it is not the best.”

I release the coin.

“I hate to say, but neither of your brothers’ stem cells are a match.”

I pull the knit wool cap farther down my bald head. This cannot be true. They’d volunteered and wanted to help. I’d assumed that one or both of them would be able to donate stem cells. There was a fifty-fifty chance. Tears well up in my eyes. Feeling shaky and vulnerable, I wrap my wool coat around me.

“And there is no one in the international database. I am very sorry.”

“Can we look again? In the database?” I ask.

“If there is no one now, the chances of a match…” She pauses, then sighs.

Evening lights begin to illuminate the slate-blue skyline of San Francisco and the bridges that span the bay. Outgoing currents sweep flocks of tidal birds farther from shore. I stare at them until they become little more than specks in the restless water.

“What will we do?” I ask.

“I am so very sorry.”

Without a bone marrow transplant, my chances are not good. I might not have a chance.

“I really thought…” I begin. Then, in my shock and disappointment at this shattering news, I blurt out, “I have a third brother.”

“Another… another brother?” Dr. Greyz sounds stunned.

“I don’t know where he is.”

I am too ashamed to tell her that Johnny and I haven’t spoken in decades.

And after all this time, I don’t know how I feel about seeing him. There is guilt, discomfort at our years of estrangement, maybe even shame. And if I can find him, which is likely impossible, will he agree to be tested? Want to see me? Do I deserve his help?

“He could be anywhere, or nowhere,” I say. “I haven’t seen him in thirty years.”

I struggle to stand. The tide pummels the riprap below my feet. After months of punishing chemo, I thought I’d come so far. Now, I’m back at the beginning.

“Find him. You must,” says Dr. Greyz.

If I want to live, and I do, I will have to find Johnny. But how? I have no idea.