I've always thought of myself as someone whose natural shyness keeps her from expressing her deepest thoughts aloud, and therefore it's a good thing that I can usually write them down when I can't speak them. But I haven't had much of a voice anywhere these days, even here at my laptop keyboard.
However, when my husband's brother Dan underwent a bone marrow transplant yesterday (with their youngest brother Mike as the donor), I decided it was time to finally write this long-overdue post about my beloved brother-in-law, who was diagnosed with AML (a form of leukemia) right around Christmastime and started his first round of chemo just afterward. Ever since his sudden and shocking diagnosis, Dan has been waging a heroic battle to reclaim his health. I don't know that too many people actually visit this blog; but I do know that the ones who do are unusually good prayer warriors. And that is exactly what is needed right now, more than anything else.
When I married into the Pearl family in 1980, I got the best husband I could ever hope for. But I got so much more: I got the privilege of belonging to a family that is like no other--a huge, tight-knit clan where every single member loves God and each other about as fiercely as humanly possible.
My husband and his seven siblings are unusually close. All eight of them are responsible, hard-working, church-going, intelligent, successful, funny, personable, loving people with a zest for living and a deep commitment to each other and to their Catholic Faith. For them, Faith and family are what it's all about. (Sorry, my bad: make that Faith, family, and Notre Dame football--or just Notre Dame in general.) And when they learned that one of them was sick, they did what they always do: they pulled together to figure out how they could best help and support him; and they started to pray even more frequently and fervently than usual (which is saying a lot). The Pearl family is praying for and hoping for a total cure; and moreover, their Faith tells them that God can make good come out of even a situation as painful and scary as this one.
I first met Dan in 1973 when he was 13, two years younger than my husband and I were at the time. He was (and is) a handsome, strong, kind-hearted, funny guy, gifted both athletically and academically, who could seem like a bit of a quiet man-type if you didn't know him well.
1975 St. John's yearbook, Varsity basketball photo.
Back row, L to R: Dan and his older brother (my then-boyfriend, now-husband).
But Dan was (and is) also always the quintessential life of the party. He is Wild-and-Crazy Uncle Dan, beloved by his many nieces and nephews. He trademarked a fist-in-the-air, mouth-wide-open party pose at family weddings and earned the nickname "Danimal." We've got a big family, and there have been a lot of weddings. So there's been a lot of THIS:
This iconic Danimal pose is now the stuff of Pearl family legend.
Everyone posed for pictures once their t-shirts arrived in the mail.
|Our youngest son, doing a pretty good Danimal impression.|
Dan's daughters wanted to make a huge photo collage poster for their dad, showing everyone in their Team Danimal shirts. I would love to share all of these awesome pictures with you today, but I'm going to save them for another post tomorrow. Because what I really want to tell you about right now is the amazing gift that was given yesterday, freely and with so much love, from a younger brother to his older brother. And also about the amazing courage and fortitude of a guy whose attitude from day one has been,"I'm going to fight this," who hugged his baby brother after the bone marrow transplant and said, "I know this is going to work." He's the Danimal. He's my hero--and every Pearl will tell you the same thing.
Here is a devoted son, brother, husband, father, and grandfather.
And now also a slayer of dragons (or cancel cells--potato, potahto).
A while back, after some initial rounds of chemo, it was determined that a bone marrow transplant was the best option for Dan's continued treatment. All seven of his siblings were sent genetic testing kits and instructed to swab the insides of their cheeks, to determine who might be the best match. The people working on the transplant team at Dan's hospital in Chicago were amazed at how quickly all the kits were returned and how eager all of the siblings were to donate if they could. (Apparently, not all families are like this one.)
The best scenario is that a donor is not only a full match, but also a sibling--and furthermore a sibling who is of the same gender, if possible (a great argument for large families!). The final way the candidates are ranked concerns age, with the youngest full match being the preferred option. And would you believe that all three of Dan's brothers were perfect matches--which does not happen as often as you would think! (If you knew these boys, and how they are practically joined at the hip, it would not surprise you that their genetic make-up is so similar!) Several of the sisters were partial matches, but even if they'd been full matches it would not have been as ideal, since the transplant works best if the donor and recipient are the same gender.
My husband was the first of the three brothers to learn that he was a full match. But he's the oldest of the four boys, two years Dan's senior; and shortly after he got his positive results, another brother (John, who is a year-and-a-half younger than Dan) was deemed a perfect match, so he moved into the prime candidate spot. I know that my husband wanted whoever could give Dan the best outcome to be the donor; but I also know that he was a little disappointed that he wasn't the one who was going to be chosen as the lucky brother who would give this life-giving gift to Dan. As the oldest boy in the family, he feels a sort of fatherly responsibility for his younger siblings--especially now that both of their parents are gone.
The brother who is the youngest of the eight siblings, Mike, was on a business trip when the kits were sent out, so he was the last to get his swabs shipped back to the hospital. When it was determined that he was also a full match, he became the best choice out of the three possible candidates; and after filling out a health history questionnaire and having a physical, it was a go for the transplant.
You've gotta love the way the Pearls keep their sense of humor, like the good Irishmen that they are, even in the face of life's toughest challenges. When Mike learned that he would be the donor, he made this hilarious comment (the one with the stars next to it) on the family text stream.
All kidding aside, the two brothers were prepped for the transplant procedure. Dan's immune system was completely wiped out by chemo ahead of time, so that he would be ready to receive Mike's stem cells and to effectively take on Mike's immune system as his own. Mike flew from California to Chicago and was given medications over a number of days leading up to the big day (Dan's "second birthday," is what the hospital calls it). But the actual bone marrow transplant itself didn't take long at all. What used to be a rather invasive procedure for both parties now seems about the same as giving blood for the donor and getting a transfusion for the recipient. Modern medicine is incredible!
As one of my daughters-in-law texted yesterday, "Thank God for modern medicine, wonderful doctors and nurses who give their life studying these things, and family to carry this cross with." Yes! And thank God for Faith, without which we would all be lost. The greatest thing we learned yesterday, other than that they felt the transplant had gone very well and Dan was feeling okay afterward, was that a priest wrote up a prayer for him and it was recited aloud by all the participants in the room yesterday before things got underway.
They also all recited this prayer with Dan.
Wow...just wow. Imagine the power in that room; imagine how close Dan must have felt to God, and how comforted by His presence.
If anything, Dan's illness has made an already very close family grow even closer. It has rallied them all against a common enemy that dared to attack one of their own. AML picked the wrong guy! As my daughter-in-law also said, "Even though they were already so close, it's amazing how God brings so much good even out of this suffering, bringing them all EVEN closer together and all of the cousins as well. It's beautiful."
One of my sisters-in-law decided that since the brothers now have identical immune systems, they will henceforth be called "the twins." I love that--and I'm quite sure it will stick!
I like to imagine Dan with a head cold 25 years from now, razzing Mike about the lousy immune system he gave him...and Mike retorting that at least he got "increased intelligence and enhanced looks" out of the deal, so he should stop complaining about a stuffy nose. That is the way the Pearl brothers have always operated, finding laughter amidst tears, and I simply couldn't love them more--for that and for a million other things. (That goes for the Pearl sisters, too, of course!) I love them to the moon and back.
I don't usually have favorites in the family, because they're all gems; but I think right now it's okay if two Pearls take the top spots. God bless them both with many, many years of health and happiness.
|Dan with his wife, son, and new twin brother. #DanimalStrong!!|
Before I go, I just wanted to remind you how important it is to give blood. And if you've ever thought about signing up to be a bone marrow donor, please do it. I can't think of a better gift that you could give--especially for those families who aren't lucky enough to have a pool of eligible donors in their own ranks.