By Ruthie Laroche
For the County Courier
On Saturday, June 15th Alex Blair stood before her classmates, family members, and the Fairfax community, sharing her heart in a speech that moved many to tears.
The BFA Fairfax senior encouraged each person to live life to the fullest and not to wait to enjoy the best things in life.
This Saturday, just three weeks later, many of those same friends and family will be hosting a ‘Be the Match for Alex’ with the hope of finding a bone marrow match for the determined and spirited young lady they love.
Alex Blair was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia on October 4, 2018. AML begins in the bone marrow and travels into the blood; it may spread to other parts of the body including the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, central nervous system.
Bone marrow transplants are needed as part of the treatment for a person suffering from AML, and currently, there are no bone marrow matches for Alex in the national database.
The goal of the ‘Be the Match’ drive is to locate a person who can supply the life saving bone marrow cells that Alex needs to continue her treatment.
All are welcome to come out to the Cambridge Fire Station on Saturday, July 6th from 11-3 where the Cambridge Volunteer Fire Department will be hosting the ‘Lets Be the Match for Alex’ bone marrow drive.
Those who attend the drive must be 18 to 44 years of age and will be asked to give a cheek swab. Even if you are unable to donate, you can help the family by purchasing the “Blair Wear” that will be on sale at the event.
There will also be a drop box for donations and well wishes for Alex, who will soon be heading to the Boston Children’s Hospital for treatment.
“The drive is the highest priority of the family at this point,” said Kristine Irish, a long-time family friend of the Blairs.
Alison Irish, Kristine’s daughter, and Alex Blair have been lifelong friends. The two attended the Fletcher Elementary School together, entering a class with only ten students.
Sports have played a significant role in the lives of both the girls; Kristine noted they began their sports careers together as kindergartners.
This spring the BFA Bullets softball team traveled to Castleton University to compete in the Division III State Tournament.
Alex, who had been cleared to participate with the softball team at the beginning of the season, played with her friends, taking a limited role on the team.
“She is a phenomenal bunter. She had to sit the bench because of her illness, but when she did take the field, it was game-changing,” noted Kristine.
The state championship game was bittersweet for the Fairfax athletic community. Alex had learned the day before the game that her cancer had returned; she chose to keep the news to herself so that the team could enjoy the day.
“Watching her go through all of this has given me a whole new perspective,” said Kristine. “You always find that handful of moms that will all work together to get kids to sporting events. Heather Blair and I got to know each other’s kids really well through sports. Alex is one of ‘my girls’.”
Kristine recalled the day Alex learned about her initial diagnosis. Alison and Kristine were on the way to a senior picture session.
“It was a shock that I was taking my daughter for her senior pictures, and Alex was going to be spending the year fighting for her life.”
The diagnosis didn’t put a damper on the characteristics that endeared Alex to those who know her.
“She always has such a positive attitude. In the hospital, it seemed like Heather and Alex were lifting us up when we came to visit.”
Alex, an athlete and a member of the Cambridge Volunteer Fire Department, wasn’t one to sit idle. Much to the joy of her classmates and family, she was able to return to high school after the completion of her treatment.
On graduation day, Alex stepped up to the podium and delivered her speech. Kristine will not forget the depth of the moment.
“Her message was so clear: don’t wait to go on that trip and to do the things you love. You just don’t know what lies ahead.”
The words spoken by the 18-year old hit their mark. Alex shared that most people don’t get AML until later in life and that one in four will survive to the five-year mark. She was coping with something that should not have affected a person as young and healthy as she was.
Two hours after the graduation ceremony, Alex headed to the hospital to begin treatment.
Because of the relapse, she will have to redo aggressive treatments. Those treatments cause blood count levels to drop significantly.
“From what I understand, it’s difficult to keep re-treating without a bone marrow transplant. She’s in need of a lifesaving bone marrow transplant right now.”
Those who can’t attend on Saturday can order a free cheek swab kit through ‘Be the Match’ website.
Alex is currently at UVM Medical Center, but her next round of treatment will be done at the Dana Farber Institute. Kristine encouraged anyone who could make a financial donation to help cover the family’s travel costs, to do so.
There are also other ways to help Alex. For the next forty days, Alex will be kept in confinement as her body recovers from the treatment. She has requested that people who have photos of her with her team and her friends send them so she can use them to decorate her hospital room.
Following Alex’s journey has bolstered Kristine’s belief in the goodness of the local community.
“When trouble strikes, this community rallies!” said Kristine.
Not only has the immediate community risen in support of Alex, but teams from other towns–MVU, Peoples, and Lyndon Institute–have also shown their support.
“Lyndon Institute High School did a fundraiser for the Blairs, and the coach brought the check to the state championship game and gave it to Alex,” said Kristine.
Lydia Tinker and Jordan Bushway, good friends of Alex’s, were instrumental in organizing the ‘Be the Match Drive.’
“Alex is amazing! Her maturity is impressive, and she’s always looking out for the people around her,” said Lydia.
Lydia noted that while people were fundraising for Alex, Alex wanted to fundraise for another woman who had the same disease.
Lydia chose the Cambridge Fire Department as the site for the drive because the fire community is a huge part of Alex’s family and her life.
“The firefighters in Cambridge are like her family, and they want to help her in any way they can,” said Lydia. “Fire departments from all around the country have sent her badges and, and she displays them all in her room.”
Lydia smiled as she spoke of her good friend.
“She’s a fighter! She gets up every morning with a smile on her face no matter how crappy she’s feeling. She just takes whatever cards she’s dealt for the day.”
Alex’s own words at the graduation ceremony express that fighting spirit.
“Attitude is everything. When I was diagnosed there was no doubt that I would beat this. There were a lot of days I didn’t feel good, but I tried to keep a positive attitude. Always remember that every day we wake up, we have the opportunity to make it a good one!”
For more information, please visit the ‘Be the Match’ for Alex Facebook page. A visit to bethematch.org will answer any question you may have. The website also provides an 800 number where folks can call with questions.
After contacting Be the Match, the County Courier learned that if a person registers with any of the three bone marrow registries in the United States, their information is available to any patient in need of a donor. Be the Match encouraged potential donors to register with only one bone marrow registry to avoid confusion with multiple matches.