“So we’re family, you’re half latina now!” (USA)

Hello, I’m Shardé Fultz and I received an allogeneic bone marrow transplant in 2011 after receiving chemo and radiation for my cancer diagnosis in 2009. The search for a donor was nerve-wracking especially as an African American, ethnicity is important in finding a match since HLA markers are inherited. My family and I knew it would be an uphill battle since Afro-Americans make up only 4% of donors–slim pickings for a perfect match.

Thankfully, we found a match in nearly 3 months–many people wait much longer. My match was not close, but we took the risk due to the urgency and small likelihood of finding a perfect one. There are certain ways of measuring the closeness of a match, but you could say mine was about a 4 out of 10. So, there was a bit of fear about whether it would take but we took a leap of faith. Thankfully, the transplant worked albeit it came with many side effects and a very long journey of recovery.

Early along that recovery, I received a sweet card in the mail from my donor that came with a bracelet. There wasn’t any information to contact them, but they offered sweet words of encouragement and it sincerely warmed my heart that they were thinking of me. Later down the recovery journey I remember I was lying in bed, I received a call from an unknown number and the person on the other end said something like, “Hey how ya doin’? I’m Kevin. I’m your bone marrow donor.” It was such a surreal moment that I can’t remember verbatim, but I recall the shock, and sort of freezing in that moment, and saying, “Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. This is crazy! Thank you! Thank you so much! I don’t know what to say!”

Kevin told me the story of how he decided to join the registry; he was at the gym and saw a commercial for a little Latina baby girl that needed a transplant. Her story pierced his heart being Latino himself, and he felt accountable to donate. They told him he unfortunately wasn’t a match for that baby girl but he could help a young woman in Detroit and boom, there we were. He said, “So we’re family, you’re half latina now!”

We talked about life, our families, where we were from and it was the loveliest, and one of the most novel moments of my entire life. I knew we had a special bond when he called me his sister and we’ve been family ever since, keeping in touch via phone and social media.

In 2018 we finally met face to face in NY. It was great to be able to hug the man that played such a vital role in the trajectory of my life and meet his beautiful family. We still keep in touch and Kevin likes to stay abreast on my health. I remember vividly how sad he was to hear that I had chronic side effects from the transplant, he felt like his cells let me down and I reminded him how far I had come and how much he was a part of that–Kevin’s that kind of caring guy. I feel extremely blessed to have been able to meet my donor and it isn’t lost on me that not everyone gets the opportunity for this unique friendship, for example Cord Blood transplant recipients and some people that simply choose not to meet their recipients.

My cancer journey has definitely been a rollercoaster but it’s victories and surreal moments such as this that leave a radiant and special mark in one’s life despite the circumstances. I’m so grateful for the choice Kevin made that day and for the friendship we’ve been able to cultivate over the years.