May 16, 2003

Message of ‘Today’ — Pasleys take bone marrow crusade to national TV

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Irvin, Myles, Jillian and Jessica Pasley pose with “Today” host Matt Lauer and Dr. Nancy Kernan after Friday’s taping in the New York studio.

Message of ‘Today’ — Pasleys take bone marrow crusade to national TV

(Editor’s note: The following is a first-person account by Jessica Pasley after she and her daughter, Jillian appeared on NBC’s “Today” on May 9 to advocate for minority bone marrow donors. Jessica and Irvin’s daughter, Jade passed away in February 2000 after a relapse post transplant. Jillian’s bone marrow transplant was July 16, 2002.)

When the National Marrow Donor Program called me two weeks ago and asked if I wanted to appear on the “Today” show, it was a no-brainer. Of course I’d go on national TV to help raise awareness about the need for minority donors to become committed members of the registry.

A few days passed and the next thing I know, producers are calling to get background information, organizing a camera crew’s arrival to my home for “b roll” and making arrangements for my entire family to fly to New York for a live interview.

Doing the live piece was nothing compared to just getting there!

Since my entry into the world of cancer, transplants and hospitals, I’ve had to relinquish my children’s lives and most of mine to that of the medical community. More importantly, my husband and I had to put all of our trust in anonymous folks who said yes to helping save lives as bone marrow donors for the NMDP Registry. We twice have relied on this organization to find donors to save the lives of our daughters, Jade and Jillian.

A week ago, my daughter Jillian and I appeared with Dr. Nancy Kernan, assistant chief of BMT Service at Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center on the “Today” show. Another mother and daughter, Linda and Kailee Wells, were interviewed via satellite from their home in New Mexico. Kailee is in desperate need of a transplant.

While waiting for our segment to air, we were sent to the Green Room, a small room where guests stay until called for makeup/wardrobe and eventually the studio. It was not impressive. I had envisioned comfortable couches with lots of food and upbeat banter among show guests — a mini party if you will.

We spent a great portion of our time in the kitchen across the hall raiding the fridge and watching Vince Gill perform in front of the studio. We also watched the anchors in makeup. It was fun to rub shoulders with TV personalities.

When it came time for makeup, I laughed. Despite cautioning the woman handling my redo, update, makeover or whatever you want to call it, that I lean towards the natural look, I knew the pancake was coming.

It was an amazing transformation that lasted at least for a couple of hours. I’m still taking off some of it. Even Jillian got a little dazzle on her lips. She smiled most of the time, except for a couple of yawns.

Matt Lauer was a superb interviewer. During a portion of the show, a video of our girls was shown, which unknown to the viewers really caught me by surprise and left me in tears. Not in a bad way, mind you. I just hadn’t seen “living” images of Jade since she died.

As I tried to gain my composure, Matt held my hand and coached me through. Jillian, seeing that I was touched by the footage of her sister, also lent a comforting hand.

It was odd sitting on the stage with an earpiece which technically you don’t need since you are live, but it enabled us to hear the other family and commercials, a microphone running up my dress and people outside the windows waving like mad at you.

After a while I didn’t know whether to answer a question, wave at the onlookers or sing along to the commercials.

I am so happy for the opportunity for a national platform. I’m still pinching myself. Although six minutes passes very quickly, it was long enough for thousands of viewers to get the message. The NMDP received about 1,500 phone calls on Friday alone.

The power of national TV.

We are inching closer to our goal of educating minorities about the need to raise the number of folks on the registry.

As I’ve said many times, if you were you lying in a hospital bed or at home because there is no donor, essentially waiting to die, I know you would be wondering where the donors were. You too would want someone rallying the community to come forth to save lives. Instead of wondering what if, why not commit now? It sure would save thousands of people a lot of anguish.