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To the MIT Community

Oct. 14, 1999

This was intended to be a letter to the MIT community asking for support in the bone marrow drive. I now realize that this letter can, and probably will, address a much larger audience.

To start off, I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 1996. I was treated with chemotherapy for two years. Treatment was tough, and filled with needles and nausea. But week by week, and month by month, I got closer to the end. In that time, I somehow managed to get through high school and into MIT. The summer of 1998 was an exciting time: I had finally finished the chemo, and college began in the fall. I left for school, free from drugs, and full of hope. I felt that I had survived a great ordeal, and that nothing could hurt me any worse than what I had just gone through.

I was wrong. In January, just six months after ending chemo, I was told that my marrow had relapsed, and that although I felt fine, I will soon show symptoms of leukemia. I was devastated. It was a nightmare becoming reality. All the aspects of treatment that I had thought were history became my foreseeable future.

I rushed back home to New York, and restarted treatment. The plan was to use the same chemo to get me back into a remission, and then I would get a bone marrow transplant to make it last. And so, the search began, first to my sister, then to my family and the rest of the world. All the registries in North America, Asia, and Europe were searched. My sister was only a halfway match, and the registries have, thus far, not produced any better. However, the fact remains that I will need to have a transplant soon; chemotherapy did not provide a lasting solution the first time so it is not expected to work this time, either.

To my friends who had only known that I disappeared one January day, I regret having you find out in such an impersonal way. For this, I apologize. I had hoped to keep my ordeal private until I was ready to go back to school. But, as time passed, I realized that my story would perform a better service if told now. The worst thing for me to do was to keep silent. I wanted people to understand the need for more donors. I am not just a cancer patient, I am a person, like you. And like you would be, I am scared. I have always relied on myself to face any challenge, but the availability of a donor is something I cannot control; for that, I need the help of others.

And now, I come to the purpose of this letter. A bone marrow drive will occur soon, and it is my hope that you will agree to be a donor. My situation is not unique, and therein lies the problem. My plea is not so much a request for help, but for your compassion. There are many sufferers of leukemia and other blood diseases who need transplants, but are powerless to the whims of fate. Helplessness is a terrible feeling; it leads to depression and self-pity. Please decide to help end this senseless suffering. In an age where so much is possible, it is inexcusable that we do not end the pain that is within our ability to end.

David Li