In 2010, my sister was diagnosed with MDS a “pre-cancer” where the bone marrow does not function properly. Without a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, it is highly likely a patient will develop an aggressive and terminal form of Leukemia (AML).
My sister received medication that kept the MDS in remission for years, however, in May 2016 the same week in which my younger sister Cathy was diagnosed with a recurrence of Breast Cancer, Connie’s medication became ineffective. In the fall of 2016, Connie’s condition worsened, and it was determined without a stem cell transplant, she would not survive.
My brothers and I were tested, (my older brother had died in 1988 and my sister Cathy died 6 weeks after her diagnosis). I was a 100% match, and I was overjoyed! The doctors began to prepare my sister for the transplant. She was placed in the transplant unit where she received harsh chemotherapy in an attempt to kill off the cancer cells without killing her.
I also had to prepare by having several tests and blood tests (22 vials worth). A week prior to the transplant I received daily shots of Neupogen to stimulate neutrophil production. While the neutrophils are multiplying, my bone marrow worked overtime causing at times severe bone pain. This process was difficult in many ways, but the physical pain and isolation for me to remain healthy, paled in comparison to what was going on in my mind and heart.
A Heavy Burden
The thought that my sister’s life was in my hands was at times emotionally overwhelming. What if after being a match, I wasn’t healthy enough to donate? What if I didn’t produce enough cells? What if I needed a central line because my veins couldn’t handle the extraction (I had to get a central line). What if it doesn’t work? What if… what if… What if my blood couldn’t save her? And, why couldn’t I have done something to save my younger sister? Lord, why Connie and not Cathy? Why couldn’t I save both? At times my heart was broken and torn!
I was anxious and frightened; I was carrying a huge burden that weighed on me heavily, but it was a burden of my own making as it was not mine to carry.
Psalm 139 tells us that, “all the days are ordained for me before one of them came to be” not just my days, but the days of my sisters. There was nothing that I could do to save my younger sister, and the life of my older sister did not depend on me either. Their days, just as mine were ordained before the foundation of the world.
Ephesians 1:7 tells us that “we have redemption through His blood” and 2:13 “we have been brought near by the blood of Christ” It is Christ’s blood that saves, redeems, restores, and brings us to God.
A Better Blood
In the end, I was the perfect match, I produced more cells than needed, and the doctors were amazed how quickly my cells grafted into her marrow without rejection. Even in all of that, my blood was not what would save her, instead, it was the power of Christ’s blood shed on the cross.
Only the blood of a spotless Lamb can redeem and restore God’s people. That Lamb was Jesus. He went to the cross bearing not only our personal sins, but all the brokenness of this world. Brokenness that includes a malfunctioning bone marrow!
In a stem cell transplant, donor cells are a substitute for the malfunctioning cells in the recipient; they take the place of those cells, the donor cells instead of the corrupted cells.
In Genesis 22:1-13 when Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac, God provides a substitute. A ram is sacrificed instead of Isaac. In Exodus 12, when God promised to kill every first-born son because of Pharaoh’s hard heart, God called the Israelites to take the blood of a spotless lamb and place it on the doorpost and lentil of their households, the lamb’s blood was a substitute; a lamb is sacrificed instead of the first-born son. These events are just a foreshadow of the ultimate substitute. Jesus shed His blood;, He gave His life for the sins of this world. Jesus took the judgment that we deserved. He took our place.
God has a way of reminding us through the truth of His Word where He wants our hearts and minds to focus. I was never my sister’s savior, because she only has one, the ONE whose blood covered her and gave her everlasting life.
Eleven months after the transplant, as I said goodbye for the evening, I told her that I loved her. Connie’s final words to me were faint but clear, “I love you too.” The next night, my sister went home to be with her Savior. No more transfusions or transplants were necessary as she met the Lamb whose blood sacrifice redeemed her.
The months between and following both my sisters’ illnesses and deaths I held tightly to many Scriptures, none more beautiful than this one which has been accomplished through the blood that truly saves.
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
About the Author:
Carol Agate currently serves as the Pittsburgh Presbytery Women’s Ministry Chair.
She has led group and one on one Bible Study for the past 30 years with a heart for discipleship and mentoring younger women in the Word.
Carol and her husband along with another couple are the founding members of PitCare, Inc. a non-profit community ministry in Pitcairn, PA. She has participated in many mission trips through MTW and MNA as well as leading several trips to Haiti through Great Commission Alliance.
Carol graduated from The Sawyer School of Business, is a former Medical Assistant and Paralegal, as well as owning her own business. She is a mom to 7 adult children, g-ma to 25 grandchildren, and great-g-ma to one.
In her spare time, she loves to garden, travel, visit National Parks, and spend time with her grands. She and her husband Gary have been married for 34 years and currently reside in Pitcairn, PA.