My younger sister Maggie was a renaissance woman—a no-nonsense nurse practitioner in a rural Vermont community, an accomplished artist, a mother and farmer and beekeeper and maple syrup producer. She also was my stem-cell double, something we discovered two years ago when her lymphoma roared back into her blood after a long remission and she needed a bone marrow transplant in order to live.
In many ways, Maggie and I were very different: I am a head-in the-clouds writer; Maggie had her feet on the ground. Yet among the four girls in our family, I was the one whose cell tissue matched hers.
Before having my bone marrow harvested and transplanted into Maggie’s bloodstream, I read up on what Maggie might face after transplant. The gravest dangers were of cell rejection and attack—Maggie’s body might reject my cells, and my cells might attack Maggie. Both reactions could kill her. Rejection and attack: those words had a familiar ring to them. Although we had always loved each other with that fierce sibling kind of devotion, we also had gone through periods of our own rejection and attack. Close in age, yet far apart in temperament, beliefs and career and lifestyle choices, I wondered if perhaps Maggie and I needed to do something to bring us closer together.