A Conversation With My Bone Marrow on Her 15th Birthday

by Benjamin Rubenstein / April 25, 2018

On every anniversary of my bone marrow transplant, I try to write a story of reflection. This is one such story in recognition of the 15th anniversary since I had my bone marrow transplant and have been cancer-free. This story is fantasy, so please suspend reality for a moment.

My 15-year-old “daughter” says that since I was born in the period when the sun passed through the constellation Capricornus, I’m—according to her favorite lifestyle magazine Elle—charming, graceful, and a freak in the sheets, lady in the streets. My daughter says this as we sit at our pollen-covered bistro set on the covered balcony of our ninth-floor apartment overlooking Crystal and Pentagon Cities. Clouds have rolled in and it has begun raining.

“I’m so glad I got that messy self-exploration out of the way!” I tell my daughter. “Now that I know myself fully, I can begin honing my sheets-and-streets skills.”

It’s cool being able to talk like this with my daughter. Though, that’s because I didn’t conceive her. She’s the stem cells collected from an anonymous baby girl’s umbilical cord. The cells were transplanted into me on April 24, 2003, to treat my second cancer called myelodysplasia. Those stem cells repopulated inside my bone marrow, and now my blood is her XX blood. My immune system is partially hers. I am partially her.

“But hold up,” says Bone Marrow—that’s what I call my daughter—“In Japan, your blood type is apparently more important than your zodiac sign. You’re type O-positive, right?…Like, duh, obvi you are because we have the same blood type. So some rando site called Body ecology says that since your blood type is O-positive, you handle stress well and you’re daring.”

“I’ll take it!” I tell her.

“Um ohmagawsh, it says you also have a well-developed physique?”

“That is true, I am shredded!” I reply.


“I mean, I will be again when I stop eating ALL THE CANDY. What does “Elle” say about me based on my blood type?” I ask Bone Marrow.

“Let’s see what it says about you based on the blood type you were born with and had until I changed you.” Click click click. Bone Marrow searches the internet even faster than birch pollen leads my face to mushroom. My heart swells when I consider she’s so much more brilliant than anyone else’s bone marrow. She is one big reason why I rarely catch colds, haven’t developed a third cancer or had a recurrence, and have allergies.

“”Elle Singapore” says A-positive people are creative and calm.” Bone Marrow tells me.

“Amazing, that is me!”

“But, like, it also says you are stubborn and, like, avoid confrontation.”

“…I’ve been O-positive for 15 years, so let’s go with that daring stuff instead.”

I think more about how my blood type changed. If it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t even have believed it was possible. But then again, my personality has changed, too. Life is long for the fortunate ones. Long enough for us to change and learn and do almost anything. Bone Marrow has extended my life by 15 years and counting. When I feel sad about my inadequacies, I just have to remember that each day—each interaction, even—is a new opportunity to learn something new and become adequate. Thanks to Bone Marrow, I can do anything.

Neither of us speaks for a bit, and I can hear the rain splatter on the balcony railing. I look down to the ground at the greenery. The color reminds me of the towering trees I encountered the first time I left the University of Minnesota hospital after my stem cell transplant. When I was admitted, everything was frozen, and 65 days later when I exited the lobby’s revolving doors, I saw that the world had sprung to life. I feel so happy sitting here with Bone Marrow on her fifteenth birthday I could cry.

“What’d you get me for my birthday?” Bone Marrow says, interrupting the quiet. “It better be hot. It better make the boy bone marrows and girl bone marrows all cray cray for me. You know, I’m still exploring.”

Just when I was getting all sentimental about Bone Marrow, as I often do around her birthday, she reminds me she’s still a teenage girl. As much as I have to learn about overcoming inadequacy, I still have much to learn about parenting a horny Bone Marrow.

“Of course I did, Sweetie,” I say, reaching towards the plate on the table to grab a piece of chard to eat. “I learned how to sauté this in macadamia nut oil just for us!”

Bone Marrow sighs and makes some serious eye-rolling. “What?” I say.

“What do you mean, ‘What?’ You’re such a basic bone marrow host.”

“What’s ‘basic’? Chard is one of the most nutrient-dense foods! How else will we live to 150 years old?” I ask Bone Marrow.

“Only a basic would say ‘What’s basic.’ Ugh I can’t believe they put my cells in you.”

My hemoglobin drops. I know because I suddenly feel tired. Bone Marrow must have caused the drop because she’s really upset. “Calm down, I was just kidding. I got you something for real.”

I feel a jolt of energy. She’s excited. “What, what! Don’t you dare say you got me watercress.”

I laugh. My little Bone Marrow is so funny sometimes. I can’t believe she was transplanted into me 15 years ago. I remember that moment as clearly as if it happened not yesterday, but just now.

“I got you MoviePass!” I say as I show her the debit card that allows us to get right in for any movie in almost any theater.

Bone Marrow screams, and it doesn’t sound like the good kind. “Like OH-MA-GAWSH, you’re the most basic bone marrow host ever! How did you not know that I only watch Netflix shows? Movies are for old people. Ugh!”

I exclusively watch movies and not shows, apparently because I am old. I am old in part thanks to Bone Marrow. Thank you, thank you, thank you, and happy birthday, Sweetie.


Your ever-grateful host

Celebrating Bone Marrow’s 15th birthday (and 15 years cancer-free)



About the Author. Benjamin Rubenstein  is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you!  Benjamin is the author of the Cancer-Slaying Super Man booksHe earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. You can wish his bone marrow a happy birthday on FacebookYou can subscribe to his quarterly newsletter, Words by ruBENstein.





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