Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Welcome Home

As I sit in Allie's apartment in Nahariya with her two German roommates, getting ready for a "party" (there are a few people coming over) I keep thinking...what just happened in the past 48 hours?

The blizzard put an interesting spin on plans, as is always the case when flying out of the northeast in the winter. I didn't complain one bit about the snow though, because I know I will miss it. Alright, shoveling out Brendan's car or the mailbox wasn't the most fun thing I've ever done, but I still love snow. Instead of going to New York on Monday night we went early (4:30am) on Tuesday morning because the roads would be more clear. Newark airport was plowed terribly, cars were stuck in the snow all over the place from the storm that was two days ago at this point. Anyway, everything went smoothly at the airport, my bags that were clearly overweight were not a problem, nor was my carry on that was two times the weight it was supposed to be. Saying goodbye to Dani and Mom was really hard, of course.

I boarded the plane on time but then sat in the plane for an hour and a half before we took off. There was a family with two obnoxious kids in front of me who cried, a lot. As you can imagine, there was not a lot of sleeping. The two girls on either side of me were really nice, one has been living in Tel Aviv for a year and a half and one is doing the same program that I am doing in Jerusalem to learn Hebrew (my Ulpan). Once we landed we had to go to the ministry of absorption and fill out some more paperwork, sign up for health care and stuff. When it was all said and done by the time the taxi took me to my sister's apartment in the north is was 3pm, 8am Boston time.

Once I showered, ate, and napped I was doing a little better. Tomorrow I am going to Tel Aviv for the weekend/the new year to meet up with Michelle and Melissa, my friends from when I studied in Tel Aviv. On Sunday my sister's roommate from Jerusalem, Adina, is getting married. I am bringing my friend Gadi with me, it should be really fun, it is my first Jewish wedding!!

Now I have to find things in my bags and repack them into another bag for the net few days, that should take a while.

Goodnight, my first night in Israel :)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I am in the airport about to board the plane, so this will be short and sweet. There have been a few changes with my plans. When I land I'm going to my sister's apartment in Nahariyah instead of moving in to Ashkelon. This is a much better idea and I wont be alone in a city where I don't know anyone. I am still moving into the absorption center Jerusalem on January 11th.

For the first few weeks I will be traveling around with my friends Michelle and Melissa that I studied abroad with while they are visiting Israel for a month. I am going to Tel Aviv to meet up with them on Thursday and staying there until I got to Jerusalem on the 2nd. My sister's roommate from her Jerusalem apartment is getting married on the 2nd and I am going. My first Jewish wedding!!

Goodbyes were very very sad over the past few weeks and I am sure I will cry again on the plane (that is, until I fall asleep), but I am really excited to start this new adventure!

I will update again soon, time to board!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

you can be cloned too!

okay, all joking aside, I forgot to add the most important part...

I was a random match and I now have the opportunity to give life to a 3 year old little girl who most likely would not have lived. You can sign up to be on the registry as well by either attending a drive and giving a cheek swab or ordering a kit to your house and sending the swab in yourself.

go here for more info:

Cloning Myself

alright fine, it's not really a clone of me, but it's a clone of my blood system!

Let me explain...

On my 21st birthday I did what all 21 year olds do, went to a bone marrow donor drive with my mom and signed up for the DKMS registry. (DKMS is the largest bone marrow donor center in the world, recruiting donors for leukemia patients) Then I went out for delicious sushi and drinks, of course. Shortly after I had completely forgotten about signing up for the registry.

That was, until this past September when I received an email, which I almost deleted thinking it was spam, saying that I was a match for a patient. Since then I have been getting blood drawn and tests done to make sure I am a full match and that I don't have any pressing health issues of my own. There is a <1% chance of finding a match if the patient doesn't have a match in their family. Turns out I am that <1% for a 3 year old little girl with leukemia.

There are currently two ways to donate bone marrow. The way most people are familiar with is the actual extraction of the stem cells from the bone marrow. The way that the patient's doctors requested I donate is the other way, through a process called apherisis. For the past four days I have been on a drug called nupogen to exponentially increase my stem cell count in my body. The goal of the drug is to increase the stem cells so much that they come out of the bone marrow and into the blood stream. In order to donate they take my stem cells out of my blood stream through IVs.

Today was donation day so Mom and I woke up well before the crack of dawn to make it into the city for my 7am appointment. Ironically, the girl who took my vitals first was someone I went to high school with, how nice to see a familiar face! There was a little bit of trouble with the first IV because my blood clotted and it wasn't coming out at a high enough pressure. So here we are, all set up, main IV in my right arm, small IV in my left wrist, and it's not working. Bummer, especially since I hate needles! I was pretty upset and nervous that they would not be able to get a good line, and I didn't know what this meant for my ability to donate. Thankfully attempt two was successful and they switched the main IV to my left arm and the small one in my right hand. I wouldn't have made it through that part without my momma there to hold my hand! We were reminiscing about how I used to freak out when I got shots and how once I almost made my pediatrician stick herself with the shot!

The process is actually really cool. Blood is drawn from one arm and goes into a machine which collects my stem cells and then the blood is put back into my other arm. The process goes through all of the blood in my body twice until the machine reaches the amount it needs. Since I am donating to a toddler who doesn't weigh very much the process only took about 4.5 hours. If it were an adult patient it could have taken 9 hours over two days! The only real pain (besides bone aching and a headache from the injections for a few days) was in my arm where the IV was. Not surprisingly, once the nurse gave me some oxycodone I was fine :). Mom and I watched a movie on my computer and chatted to pass the time.

Now, you may be wondering how this works on the patient's end. Here is where the "cloning" comes in. The patient's immune system is destroyed, to put it simply, because of the cancer cells in her body. At this point nothing else has worked treatment wise and the patient needs a bone marrow transplant to replace the cells within her bone marrow. The patient goes through more intense rounds of chemotherapy and/or radiation in order to completely wipe out her immune system and get rid of all of her stem cells. (If you are confused, stem cells are held within the bone marrow and differentiate into white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.) The patient receives a transplant of my stem cells (and therefore, building blocks for red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets). We pray that her body does not reject the foreign blood and that it takes it on as it's own. Within a couple weeks my stem cells in the patient's body will hopefully have made their way into the bone marrow and act as they should, turning into white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. In this way the patient forms an entire new (a "clone" of my) blood system in her body. She will have my immune system, which will be cancer free.

There are a lot of things that can go wrong with the patient before she even receives the transplant (when she has no immune system) as well as after the transplant. In my case the little girl will not have the transplant until January but since I am moving I donated today and they are freezing the cells. My contact with the patient is based on her family's desire (since she is three) and limited for a long time until it is sure that the transplant has worked. I can write to the family to tell them about how the process went for me but they cannot know specifics about me such as where I am from, as I cannot know specific information about them. I think that contact can increase as the patient's chance of survival increases, and after a year I think I have a chance to meet the family, and if they so choose, the patient.

It has been a long day and if I hope to make it to work tomorrow I need to go to bed. I hope I sleep better than last night, I think I was nervous because I spent half the night awake which, some of you may know, is extremely unlike me. I will continue to update about the transplant as I receive more information.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Leaving on a Midnight Plane to Ashkelon

Yesterday morning, after landing in Boston from a very early flight home from Florida (which I am sad I had to leave since it is currently 24 degrees out, feels like 17 with the wind chill), I went to the Israeli consulate to pick up my passport with my visa in it. Everything went smoothly and I am pretty sure this is the last thing, documentation wise, that I have to do on the US end before I leave.

Midnight train to Georgia, 11:50 plane to Ashkelon, same thing. So it is set, December 28th at 11:50pm. Apparently I received a confirmation email and my flight information on November 25th but I (somehow) passed this over as being junk mail and deleted it without opening it. oops... I hope this isn't an example of how I am going to do while trying to deal with all of the Israeli bureaucracy.

Side note: Mom's not so pumped with the idea of leaving New York at midnight, can you blame her? So I am trying to figure out if there is a possibility of me switching to the 1:15pm flight from Newark on the same day. I am assuming this is not an option but I am trying the guilt trip anyway.

So I land on December 29th and my Hebrew Ulpan program at the absorption center in Jerusalem doesn't start until the middle of January. This is where Ashkelon comes into play. For the first two weeks before I move in to the absorption center in Jerusalem I am going to live in an absorption center in Ashkelon. Two cheers for absorption centers, hip hip hooray! hip hip hooray! Right, anyway, some interesting facts about Ashkelon: it is where Carsberg and Tuborg beer (very popular in Israel) is brewed, it is home to the world's largest seawater desalination plant which was voted 'Desalination Plant of the Year' for 2006 in the Global Water Awards (bet you didn't know those existed!), it is a "twin city" with Baltimore and Portland, it is on the beautiful Mediterranean Sea coast, 31 miles south of Tel Aviv, 6 miles north of Gaza, and has been the target of many Qassam rockets from Hamas in Gaza over the past 10 years, the most recent one in July of this year. But I promise there is nothing to worry about, it has been very calm lately and I will only be there for 2 weeks.

My eyes are closing on me so I must go, it was a long 15 hour shift at work today. Happy last night of Hanukkah, and what a relaxing and beautiful Hanukkah it was since I spent most of it on vacation in Florida :)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I am accepted!

I'll start near the beginning, for those of you who I have not kept updated. For this I am truly sorry, my life over the past 3/4 months has consisted of very little down time.

I've been planning on going back to Israel for a while now, but I didn't know when, for how long, or what I wanted to do there. I knew, however, that if I didn't go back to live in Israel for a while I would always regret it. I absolutely loved studying abroad in Tel Aviv and I have been itching to feel again what I felt when I was there. I want to immerse myself more in Israeli culture and learn what it is really like to be an Israeli. Studying abroad was amazing, but it was a very unique experience, just as college life in America is very unique and different then life outside of college.

One of the words that always comes to mind when I think of how I felt when I was in Israel is 'alive'. Everyday I felt like I was being challenged and learning more about myself, my religion, and what was important to me. I was so excited to learn, explore, and question. I was doing that a lot, questioning. I didn't like everything I saw, heard, or figured out, but all of it left me wanting more. I experienced a feeling of being 'at home'; of belonging to a group of people larger than myself, that I had never felt before going to Israel.

A lot of thinking, weighing of pros and cons, thinking some more, and thinking some more, led me to make the decision to make Aliyah (move to Israel). I finished my application for Aliyah in September and I recently had a meeting with a Shaliach from the Jewish Agency to go over paperwork and apply for official acceptance for Aliyah. I had been planning on moving at the beginning of next year but I received greater benefits if I moved before the end of 2010. There are two flights leaving from NY on December 28th and it looks as though I will be on one of them! I received a phone call yesterday saying that I am accepted for Aliyah but I cannot offically book a seat on the flight until I have my Visa, which takes a few weeks.

So December 28th, that is almost one month away...YIKES! Accepting the benefits means that I agree to stay for 3 years (or I have to pay it all back). What will I do in these three years? Good question.

Ideally: I am moving, initially, to an absorbtion center in Jerusalem where I will live and study Hebrew for 5 months, 5 days a week, 5 hours a day. Like the 5-5-5 deal from dominoes, except the food there isn't as good. After this I plan to volunteer in the army for a year if they will take me (I am over the age where it is required for women to enlist, but I want to volunteer anyway). The two biggest bennefits from the army are that it will help me to be more a part of Israeli society and my Hebrew will be improve exponentially. After I complete my army service (summer/fall of 2012) I want to study for my master's, most probably in communication disorders/speech pathology.

Hopefully I answered some questions but please feel free to ask me anything else you may be wondering. One of my residents at work asked me if I will have electricity and electrical appliances, so I mean it when I say ask me anything.

And of course I'll be posting again as it gets closer or if there are any updates...this is just the beginning