The mission: to move and inspire you with the heroism of others. Those who show tremendous courage in the face of adversity, those who give hope to others who need it the most, those who show us all how to live a life fulfilled. This is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (32): #JennStrong
A gift. Sometimes it can come from the most unexpected place, sometimes from a giver you never meet and sometime it might save a life.
Just ask Jennifer Aparicio.
On a warm June night, the gift of life slowly dripped into Jenn’s own body, to create a new beginning. One-hundred days before that moment, life turned on a dime, but on this night Jenn was cashing in. The chance at not just a new life, but any life. A life saved and the chance to journey onward.
It was mid-March when Jenn felt pain and soreness just under her right armpit, maybe a weird reaction to a spider bite she received while she and her husband Nestor were on a vacation in Australia. But upon closer inspection the couple thought it might be something much more. Sometimes intuition is like a premonition, in this case it was. It was much more. But what it was, no one could be sure. And that was a problem.
“They didn’t even say leukemia in the beginning”, says Jenn. “They just said your blood, all your counts are really low, we want you to go to the emergency room right now and we want you to get admitted. We want you to see a hematologist. Go to the emergency room, they will have a hematologist there to look at your blood.” Then the doctors had Jenn and Nestor put on surgical masks and told them to pack a bag. Jen says, “I didn’t think I was coming home, but they said grab a few things and plan to spend the night, not knowing it would be forty-one nights.”
After an extremely painful bone marrow biopsy the doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore diagnosed leukemia. Initial diagnosis day was the afternoon of March 20th and as fate would have it, just hours before, Nestor was announcing his return to Baltimore radio, his greatest love. Now the love of his life was in trouble. It’s crazy how life presents you with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows almost at the same moment – and then asks what are you going to do now? The juxtaposition of life events can bring even the strongest to their knees, but the Aparicio’s were not letting this news destroy them. They talked about how they would tell their family and then their friends, co-workers, their large social media following on Facebook, ( https://www.facebook.com/nastynestor?fref=ts), and Twitter, (https://twitter.com/NestorAparicio), and Nestor’s radio audience, (http://wnst.net/). They decided to go public with almost everything, though they held back a lot. “People think we’ve shared a lot. We’ve shared just a teaspoon of what has really happened, literally”, says Nestor.
And so much has happened. As soon as the diagnosis was made intense chemotherapy began, literally the next day. And though the initial hospital stay lasted five weeks, Jen says it was a blessing to be there. “The good part of being admitted”, says Jenn, ” is they are on top of your medication to avoid the nausea and the headaches. I never got sick at the hospital.” She also never felt sorry for herself. “It’s funny, in the beginning I never said, why me, I just didn’t think it mattered. All that mattered was how are we going to fix it, how are we going to get through this, what’s our next step?”
I sat next to Jenn on a couch in the Aparicio’s downtown Baltimore condominium for this interview, as she spoke these words you could feel they are at the heart of how she and Nestor decided to handle this journey. They are turning adversity into advantage, for themselves and just as importantly for other people. That’s how you live a life, to take the obstacle you are up against and use it to make life better for others, in this case to save lives.
Nestor says, “She got this disease which probably would have killed her 40 years ago, probably would have killed her 30 years ago and maybe would have killed her 20 years ago. You know when they looked at her on March 20th, they weren’t saying you’re among the people that are positively going to beat this. They were saying we gotta figure this out and now they’re saying she’s going to be fine. The hardest part is beating the cancer and then having a match. That’s the daily double. And I’m telling you the one thing we are going to do the rest of our lives is get people registered, (to be swabbed), so that if it’s your daughter, your niece, your nephew, your uncle, our neighbor, your friend… that they will have a chance to live.”
It is literally finding a donor for the bone marrow transplant, and getting the transplant completed that saved Jen’s life. The donor is anonymous, the Aparicio’s believe, actually are pretty certain, the donor came from overseas. But if not for swabbing to register bone marrow donors and find a match, miracles like Jenn’s might never happen. That is why there are websites like, (http://bethematch.org/), to educate others and encourage others to get swabbed, get registered and save lives. As the website so eloquently states, “The cure for blood cancers like leukemia is in the hands of ordinary people”.
You and I can make a difference. It’s why Jen and Nestor have teamed up with There Goes My Hero, (http://theregoesmyhero.org/), to get the message out to the masses, to hold drives where others are educated and can donate time, money and themselves, by getting registered.
Fifty-thousand people are diagnosed with leukemia each year in the United States. Jenn has an extremely rare form of leukemia that has characteristics of both lymphoblastic and myelogenous leukemia. But no matter the type, if a stem cell, or blood marrow match cannot be found, too many won’t make it. Jenn and Nestor witnessed plenty of stories of hopes lost, lives devastated, others losing loved ones, as they spent what seemed like weeks-on-end at the hospital.
Even family members are not always the answer to finding a cure. “Your siblings only have a 25% chance of being a match”, says Jenn.” My sister, even if she was a match, we probably wouldn’t have used her bone marrow, because she was diagnosed with MS a few years ago.” Nestor continues, “so the ask for people is to get swabbed and that’s something everybody can do, or give a donation to causes like There Goes My Hero, or come out and support our events. You know this is a lifetime sentence for us. We’ll be doing this forever, keeping this scoreboard of how many lives we can save, because I saw what happened last night in that hospital room and it’s miraculous, that’s all I can say.”
There’s also the miracle of support. “Everybody said the same thing”, says Nestor, “blank check…what can I do to help you, what can I do for you right now. I said to Jenn, the thing that’s going to save your life is this swabbing, and that’s it, that’s the reason I was supposed to be back on the air (radio) now. I felt like by coming back on the air I could do a lot more good for causes like this and I want to live in the moment and do the most I can and the best I can do. Hence the name of the show, The Happy Hours. This is why I call the show The Happy Hours, because I want to make people feel good.”
Life takes you strange places, the journey has twists and turns you can never anticipate, but when they come, it’s all in how you react to them. I asked Jenn about her biggest takeaway from all of his and her answer is on target – “Mindset is everything. Remaining positive is what’s gotten us through. I mean I have some down moments, but ya know I was diabetic for 23 years and never knew my blood type until I got my transfusion and it was B-Positive. And I put that on my Facebook page and I said that’s not only my blood type, but my mantra. Be positive. I’m thankful for where I am, I’m lucky to be where I am.” (https://www.facebook.com/jennesa1?fref=ts )
It’s not just Jenn’s blood type, but her answer to that question, which proves why the campaign for her is called, #BmorePositive and #JennStrong. There I was sitting on the couch next to a vibrant, articulate, beautiful cancer survivor, who less than a day before had a bag of stem cells dripped into her body to create a new life, to save her life and the life she shares with Nestor.
From earlier days, a trip to Boston
In turn Nestor shared similar sentiments about his takeaway from this experience – “There’s a Rush line, ‘we’re only immortal for a limited time’, right? I identify with music, I would say we have not at all lived our lives, you know. We are watching the World Cup right now, but we know what it’s like to sit in Germany and watch the United States play Italy, cause we did it. We see people put pictures up of Bora Bora, we know what it’s like, cause we’ve been there. We see people that wish they could go to a Super Bowl, we’ve been to ten. We’ve done a lot of things and then first thing I think we did afer the night Jenn got sick, I went over to the hospital and I said let’s talk about what we’re going to do when you get better. We started putting a bucket list together. Live like you were dying right, do it now, don’t wait, right now, like the Van Halen song, Right Now.”
Now is the moment. Now it’s your turn. Get swabbed, share hope and help save a life. Be the same person Jennifer Aparicio is showing the whole world, #JennStrong.
Until next time thanks for taking the time,
Watch Nestor’s video tribute to Jenn on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6p0W6Je0L2Y&feature=youtu.be
Listen to Nestor Aparicio online, anytime @ http://wnst.net/
Mark Brodinsky, Author, Blogger (Huffington Post), Emmy Winner
The #1 Amazon Best-Seller: It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
Connect with Mark: firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment here on the blog.