I grew up in a small town with a close-knit community. Our town hit the 10,000 person mark in the early 1990’s and still remains well under 15,000 people even today as it approaches its 151st birthday in August of this year. The town was comprised mostly of farmers and Italian immigrants, local family businesses, kids riding bikes in the evening, families going to the farmers market, and a casual, friendly atmosphere. Almost straight out of Hollywood’s ideal 1950’s.
Over the years as the yuppies moved out of the cities and north to small towns where they “always dreamed of raising a family,” there became an interest in things of a (supposed) finer quality, such as wine. It started with the day trips to the Napa Valley where they go and visit the wineries, see the grapes, smell the wines, swirl the wines in their mouths, and secretly swallow instead of spit at the end of the tasting. And then they head back to the office on Monday and brag about what a fantastic weekend they had in the Napa Valley. Wineries in Napa Valley became uninteresting and hordes of people visited them with regularity so the tourists found the next best and closest thing – Sonoma County. Home to my little town. The quickly found my little town as it is flanked by several valleys and the Russian River.
But who wants to just drink all day when there are fabulous restaurants around? That’s when food became popular again – at least in terms of dining out. Combined with the Age of the Internet and the advent of personal home computers, information spread very quickly. Sites like Yelp.com helped to better connect people from the Bay Area to other parts of the state and the country. Then the flood really began. What started off as a few good wineries and restaurants became a town full of business owners from out-of-town trying to turn a large profit, restaurants with world renown chefs, vintners from places as far away as Australia, and a remodeling of our charming downtown plaza to better suit the tourists.
In a way, it felt like our town lost its way. Now, I told you that story to tell you this one.
I recently learned that one of our local fire captains has a wife who was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) on June 24th. According to marrow.org, “AML is a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow. In AML, the bone marrow makes many unformed cells called blasts. Blasts normally develop into white blood cells that fight infection. However, the blasts are abnormal in AML. They do not develop and cannot fight infections. The bone marrow may also make abnormal red blood cells and platelets. The number of abnormal cells (or leukemia cells) grows quickly. They crowd out the normal red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets the body needs.” The website also says that it’s the most common type of leukemia. The site for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society says that symptoms for AML are similar to that of other illnesses such as tiredness, pale skin, and shortness of breath during physical activity, just to name a few. Treatment seems to be limited to chemotherapy and induction therapy.
Jason and his wife Shannon have two little people: Jackson and Austin, both under the age of four. Jason is a local fire captain and an outstanding member of the community. After my dad had a motorcycle accident a few weeks ago, Jason was more than happy to step in and help my family by keeping the motorcycle in the engine bay while my mother ordered a tow truck and coordinated with the mechanic. Jason was also very involved in the local high school’s Every 15 Minutes Program; a two day event that simulates the seriousness of drinking and driving. Even though I have never met Shannon, I have heard such wonderful things about her. She works as a local real estate agent. It sounds like she has been able to keep a positive attitude throughout the process so far, and is very gracious with the outpouring of support.
Jason’s sister Cynthia has been phenomenal at spearheading the effort to get people involved to help Shannon. She started a group on Facebook and really got people going on the blood drive. I met Cynthia my freshman year in college, as she was my politics professor. She was truly captivating, always opinionated, and ever passionate. Classes were never, ever boring. It wasn’t until awhile after I started taking her classes that I realized we grew up in about the same place. I can’t tell you what a relief this was as I struggled at the beginning of college to find my bearings. It was nice to see that someone from my area was able to get out, get educated, and do good things. (It seems silly, but I assure you it isn’t.) It was in her class that I learned many basics in understanding international politics and policies. It was also in her class that I first saw Dr. Strangelove. She told great stories about her travels all over the world, and this helped me to connect international politics to real experiences, and thus making these issues come alive rather than staying archaic and stagnant like I had imagined them previously.
Anyway, I saw that there was a blood drive being held at the local fire station in support of Shannon and felt compelled to help in any way I could. Since I am unable to give blood per doctor’s orders, I thought I would try a different way. I was able to get permission to donate food from my place of employment for the event. I quickly coordinated with the fire department and then with the gentleman who was in charge of the food (now known in my mind as the Master of the Grill). I wanted to accommodate up to 100 people. My parents and I also thought it would be great to order a large cake as well. I showed up a little before 3pm with all of the goodies to an engine bay full of people. There was already a line of people waiting to fill out paperwork to donate and all of the 10 or 12 chairs were full of donors.
It was fantastic. I thought, “Finally! An event with all the locals!” All day more and more people kept coming. Families, friends, pillars of the community. Did you know the entire city council showed up to donate blood? There were firefighters from two different stations, EMTs, paramedics, and police officers. It wasn’t just a blood drive, it was a community event. It was great to have so many wonderful people in one place. I was excited to see and talk to people I haven’t spoken to in some time. In one particular instance, I was able to talk with Shannon’s brother Keith. [As an aside, he was my Astronomy professor at the local junior college during two summer sessions. Another one of a handful of outstanding college professors that I will always remember. His lectures were always animated and incredibly informative. What’s the likelihood that I would take classes from two different professors teaching in different fields in different counties and truly enjoy both of them?] People just kept giving. As time went on, so did the line. The line for the initial paperwork was out the door! The bone marrow donations started later in the afternoon and they too had a long line. They had so many people wanting to donate that they didn’t have enough paperwork! All I know is that when I left around 10pm, it was still going strong. There were still patient folks waiting in line to give blood. Did I mention the event was scheduled to be over at 7:15pm?
The results: the largest blood drive the Blood Bank of the Redwoods has ever seen with 230 blood donors! One of the women from the blood bank told me that would help over 600 people. There were 60 donors for bone marrow. Donations for the raffle (a sky box for 12 at a Giants game in September) reached almost $3000! Jason was also able to walk out with armfuls of food to take home for the family and a strong sense of support from his community. I would say this event was a huge success!
More information on how to donate blood and marrow in blogs to come. I will also be including information on how you can support in the fight against AML. Thanks for reading!