The air was alive with anticipation, growing every hour as we approached 3pm. My sister-in-law, Jo, and I busied ourselves with snacking and putting together some tasty food and festive decor for the staff break room. At one point we were lugging bags of food down the long white hall toward the unit, when around the corner walked a woman holding a small white cooler with a red lid. The lanyard and badge around her neck were not familiar. She walked with purpose and wore a sweater somewhere between mint and aqua. “Are you from SCCA?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. “Do you have cells in there?” I asked, motioning to the cooler. “Yes,”she said. “Are those for Allistaire?” I asked. With almost no expression, she answered, “I can’t tell you that.” Undaunted, I said, “Well, if they are, that’s my girl.” With a crazy fat smile and tears down my face, Jo and I walked behind her determined steps, eyes fixed on cooler and mint in the periphery.
We stood back and watched as she opened the cooler and the soft white and pale blue wrap. We watched as she laid the bag of cells on the counter – the shockingly small little bag – not quite the color of platelets, not quite the color of blood – Rose. One hundred and thirty millilitres. That’s it? All that fuss for this? This wee bag with some thin liquid, so carefully tested and then gathered, then flown from around the world, the volume reduced to the allowable amount – a mere 10 million cells per kilogram, equating to about 150 million cells; 150 million stem cells so precisely matched to Allistaire Kieron Anderson. I did not know if I could believe it until they showed up. It all worked out? Every single step, orchestrated by a surprising number of people, and every single step occurred bringing us here to this day. She did it! That woman, followed through with her promise!
Now the last step was being taken. The line from Allistaire was being connected to the bag. How many times have I watched her line being connected to a bag or a vial labeled with a hazardous drug sticker of garish color? How many times have I had to put my hope in death? How many times have we prayed that the destruction caused by chemo would be the end of this disease? How thoroughly lovely to put hope for life in life! How bizarrely and mysteriously wonderous is the fact that these wee cells will enter Allistaire’s blood stream and make their way throughout her body, pushed along by the power of her pumping heart, and yet compelled by some inner workings to “migrate,” to her bone marrow. How in the world do they know where to go? How in the world do these like cells diversify and become all of the many different types of blood cells Allistaire needs to sustain her life? Oh the delightful thrill of pondering these spectacular processes. I revel in the complexities – I gorge on their splendor!
Allistaire herself was oblivious to the immensity of the day. She knew only that it was her special day and that she would be receiving her most special medicine. The day began of course with a viewing of the movie, WALL-E, with intermittent wide openings of her mouth like a baby bird. I responded with spoonful after spoonful of peach yogurt and periodic offerings of whole milk as she sat in her little blue cube chair – the one meant to help prevent ankle drop from too much time lying in bed. As we neared the end of the container, Allistaire gripped her tummy and threw everything up, with tears and fear in her eyes. We got her settled and I headed off to put doggie and jammies in the washer. This provided a great opportunity to get suitably dressed for the occasion in a fabulous bright yellow shirt, complete with ruffley, puffy short sleeves, the sort in which Anne of Green Gables would take pride. Allistaire requested her purse with her favorite lip gloss and quickly noticed that her purple lip gloss matched the picture of purple lip gloss on her shirt. Throughout the day various happy gifts were opened and Allistaire was allowed to skip her nap and do whatever she asked.
The actual infusion of her new stem cells was quite uneventful with the exception of numerous taking of vitals. One thing that has occurred more frequently over the last few days, is that Allistaire has had higher blood pressures. There are a number of possible reasons for this, mostly related to the medications she is on, but this necessitated a medication to bring it down a bit. The doctor does not ideally want it to be over 120/75. She required another dose of medication to lower her pressures over night.
As one might imagine, I have had ample opportunity to give thought to this whole bone marrow transplant deal. There has been a lot to learn regarding the science of it all, which has been so fun and fascinating. Yet beyond the science, is the unmistakable likeness of this transplant to the gospel – the good news of God. There has been dwelling in the core of Allistaire, a sickness that would without a doubt, bring about her death. The only way to give her hope of life has been to first bring death. How seemingly illogical. How can death bring life? Mysteriously, calculated death is necessary to bring death of the destroyer. Her cancer cells had to be destroyed. You cannot put in the new stem cells without first killing off, with the strongest of poisons, her cancer, her disease. And yet, death of the cancer cells is not enough. No, death is not enough. Death has been necessary, but it must be followed with rescue. Without new stem cells, Allistaire would still most certainly die. And not any stems cells would do! No, the world had to be searched and tested for just the right match. I could not offer my stem cells to Allistaire, because they would not be the right match. And how simply amazing and beautiful is it that there is one who was willing to give her own life blood to save Allistaire – not because of anything Allistaire has done to deserve this gift, simply because this woman has what Allistaire needed and was willing to give it! And Allistaire received it, she took it into herself, and it is even now working in her, her promise of rescue, of life!
Like Allistaire, we too have brokenness, disease, dwelling in our core that will be the death of us. Our beings have been infiltrated with sin – that rebellion against God, that asserts ourselves above all. Our rebellion, our sin, cuts us off from relationship with God, and without rescue we will die, we will be forever cut off. But as with Allistaire, death is the first necessary step to bring life. How revolting. Ugh – we spit the idea out of our minds. Who wants to invite in death? Like leukemia, can we really believe that we have disease in us that will kill us? But it will, and we actually can put our hope in death, calculated death – precise, targeted death. The death of Jesus Christ is the death that is offered us. God says that the “wages of sin, is death,” and so, in His great love for us, He provided Himself, in the flesh, as the necessary death. Christ came to die, in our place. In the death of Jesus on the cross, sin and death were put to death and conquered, and in that moment, bright singing hope burst into the world.
But, death is not enough. We need a life to come in where death once reigned. And not any life, but a very specific life, a perfect, flawless life. God says that if we are bound to Christ in His death, we will be bound to Him in His resurrection, in His defeat over sin and death. In Christ, He is offering us eternal, abundant life – a life bound to Him. He is our life blood! Allistaire did nothing to earn her new stem cells; the only thing that qualified her was her need. There is not one thing we can do to earn our rescue, our salvation. Our only qualification is our neediness and our willingness to accept – to invite in the death God offers in Christ to put to death our sin and to then receive His life – a life that is eternal and abundant and glorious and singing and resplendent. We are offered a life that can never again die!
I thank my sweet Father above for this incredible gift of Allistaire’s opportunity to have a transplant and the stem cells to rescue her. I do not know if this transplant will be enough to save Allistaire’s physical life. I have no guarantee of the days ahead. But my hope is not ultimately in this earthly, temporal life. For Allistaire and for myself, my hope is ultimately in the life to come – a life without pain or tears, without sickness or death – a life bound to the throbbing heart of the living God! And I do have a guarantee of that life – it is not only a promise in word. God has left me with a deposit, guaranteeing His outlandish promises. We, children of God, are left with the Holy Spirit, the very essence of God, to dwell with us in this body and this earthly life until we are joined with Christ in the new heavens and the new earth for eternity! Wild! Simply wondrous!
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” Romans 6:4-10