Saturday, February 12, 2011

Revisiting The Perfect Match

The Perfect Match.

The ultimate words for you and your horse because it means you've gotten to that inner core that we all strive for. You and your horse are 'one'.  Either of you only needs to think and the other understands your thoughts.

This is the ultimate in a horse and rider relationship.  I've been there with my horse, Barnie years ago; and (amazingly if you knew him) last year with Champ, right before I lost him.  The span between the two events was many years.  I hope I can go there again someday because once you've been you'll want to return again in the worst way.

But there is another Perfect Match.  This Perfect Match is related to medicine and the donation of one's self to help another.

There are certain times of the year that bring up strong memories of the past and The Perfect Match.  The month of February is one of them.

My little brother, a fellow lover of horses and always supportive and interested in my horse life, was diagnosed with Advanced Leukemia in early May of 2006.

A few weeks after we got the news my little sister and I drove to Seattle, Washington, to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), part of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.  There we were tested to see if our stem cells matched our brothers' in an effort to reverse his diagnosis.

A few weeks later I received a call that I'd been declared "The Perfect Match".  I recall Yah-Hooing as loud as I could.  I was so thrilled!  The Calvary was on its way in three sections of Me, Myself and I.  Science had chosen me to be the one to save my little brother.

As I prepared for this event so did my little brother.  I had the easy part compared to what he went through.  The Chemo and meds he took made him terribly sick.  Yet every few days I'd get a phone call from him.  He never complained and talked to me as if we were planning to meet for a special lunch instead of rolling the dice and hoping to save him.  Such courage, I've never seen before or since.

June and July came and went - the perfect time was necessary for this event.  I quit riding horses, worried if I should get hurt it would impact my chances to help my brother.  I started walking every day, I ate only healthy foods, I went to bed early, I kept distance from anybody who was sick.  I "trained" for the event.

A few weeks into August we started the stem cell process. I drove to Seattle for daily growth hormone shots while my little brother was in the hospital being prepared to receive my stem cells.  After a few shots my whole body hurt and I had terrible headaches.  I was thrilled.  This meant the injections were working and I was producing a large amount of stem cells.

The day of the transplant came.  I recall being so excited.  It was a special day, long awaited and planned for.  I envisioned my stem cells looking like the little bubbles in the Tidy Bowl commercials.  With both arms hooked up for the transplant I repeated over and over again, "Come on, Stem Cells, Let's Go!"

My results were taken over to my brother's hospital that same day.  But I wasn't finished.  I took another shot and the next day I came back for another 'draw', this time for research.  It was important to give something back to those wonderful people who were helping my little brother.

On the way home from the second 'draw' I got a phone call from my little brother.  He told me he was in the process of getting my transplant and that he suddenly had an urge to buy a horse.  We were both pretty worn out by that time but I recall both of us laughing at his humor, so typical of him.

August passed to September and his new stem cells started growing.  We were all excited.  Never having an opportunity to give birth to a child, I experienced the thrill of giving re-birth to my little brother.  I was a very proud Sister.

October and November came and the cells continued to grow.  Things were looking up medically but my little brother didn't seem to have the same perk that he used to.  I recall going over to see him on Christmas Day.  He wasn't feeling well and had decided to remain at home and not join us for our usual family gathering.  I recall telling him that HE was the best Christmas present I could ever have.

January brought the news that the stem cells had quit growing and the Leukemia was back.  I urged my brother to go through another Chemo set and I'd donate more stem cells, telling him we'd do it again and get it right this time.  He was game for a second round but by the end of January we got the news we had hoped to never hear.  The Perfect Match had been too perfect and the Leukemia was back in full force.  His days with us were growing short.

February was a time of many wonderful, heart-warming family dinners.  My little brother would not tolerate any sympathy and I never saw him feel sorry for himself.  We led by his incredible example.  We held our heads high and shed our tears out of his sight.  There was lots of laughter, seeing old friends, telling stories - factual or not, and trying to say everything one could think of before time ran out.  The words, "I love you" were used often.

My little brother loved Cabin Creek, an old logging town on the east side of the Cascade Mountains where we all have cabins.  It had always been his favorite place, it was his true home.  In early February he requested to be taken to Cabin Creek.  It would be his last time to travel a road he knew by heart.  Family and friends stepped in to make his wish come true, clearing the road of deep snow, cleaning the cabin top to bottom so that he wouldn't pick up any germs.

At this time of the year, with four feet of snow at Cabin Creek, we all went up to spend one last weekend together. We held a potluck dinner at his cabin that Saturday night and everybody in 'camp' came down to eat.  His cabin was packed with family/friends (truly all of them are family).  My brother was animated and joking with everybody.  You could hear the laughter inside as you approached the front door.

The next day he was exhausted.  You could see how much the prior day had taken out of him.  Yet, so like him, there was not a word of pity or complaint about how horrible he must have felt.  With his brother-in-laws supporting him on each side, he left his beloved cabin for the last time.

The Master Gardner, Arborist, avid jokester, great guitar player, maniac driver, and fellow lover of horses, indeed all animals, passed away on the first day of spring.   He stayed true to the end, never allowing us to feel sorry for him and leading by example.

Four years have now passed since we lost him.  There are times of the year, as in February, where it all comes back so clearly.  We deal with our grief and the huge hole that has been left in our hearts.  Yet as time passes we can now smile at his memory, laugh at the stories, and nod our heads when we hear a certain song.  He wouldn't have wanted us to remain sad.

Not many days pass when one of us doesn't mention my little brother - such a character that he was.  More than one of us has felt his presence at Cabin Creek from the soft sigh of the wind in the trees to the the shimmer of sunlight on the creek.

The Perfect Match. 

It isn't always what it turns out to be.  Yet to be a part of it will always be part of you.

In Loving Memory of My Little Brother, Don Stewart


  1. A wonderful post. A wonderful tribute. It brought a tear to my eye. Your brother is absolutely still with you.

  2. Happy Valentines Day and I hope your day is filled with beautiful memories.

  3. What a beautiful post and tribute to your brother. Blessings to you.

  4. A beautiful post and tribute to your brother.He will always be with you.

  5. I remember realizing at quite a young age that death is final only for the deceased. The rest of us have to continue on in spite of the pain. Those who have passed are never really gone as they live on in our hearts. I'm glad you have comforting memories.