Moment of a Lifetime

Posted by: Joanne Kelley

I found a FedEx box waiting on my doorstep when I returned home from my summer vacation last month. In it: a single test tube with two cotton swabs. My younger brother Tom had just been diagnosed with a rare condition that required an urgent bone marrow transplant. His doctors told him that a sibling match would give him his best chance for survival. My two other brothers and I, spread out across the country, sent back our tissue samples and waited.

Tom towered over me by the time we were teenagers, but I could only picture him now as my little brother. I pulled out old photos of us as kids to show my own children while we waited for news.

The day we lost our beach ball, we couldn’t help but wonder whether Tom had swallowed it whole.

A week later my brother got the call. “Well, your brothers aren’t a match, but we think your sister is.” I boarded a flight to New York City for more tests at Sloan-Kettering hospital.

Two weeks would pass before I returned to Manhattan so that doctors could remove some of my bone marrow cells and transfer them to Tom. He, meanwhile, checked into the hospital and passed the time in relative isolation to prepare for the transplant through chemotherapy.

I can’t say I knew what to expect once my part of the procedure was over and the anesthesia began to wear off. I got in a wheelchair and put on a face mask, gloves and special clothing so I could visit my brother in his hospital room.

My brother published this picture of us on his blog about his “summer odyssey at Sloan-Kettering." The title of his update on transplant day was simply, “Wow.” The caption on this photo: “Moment of a lifetime.”

As tears filled his eyes, my brother pointed to a bag of fluid hanging from his IV “tree”. It was a sight I won’t forget — my bone marrow cells slowing moving drop by drop, through a tube and into him.

He thanked me. And there was really only one way to respond – with gratitude, for being able to help out and give our family hope. Back at you brother. Thank you.

I’m grateful to be able to work with people who commit themselves every day to making a difference in the lives of others. Not only the funders, of course, but the many nonprofits whose work they support.

Philanthropy strikes me as intensely personal and tough to pin down with a simple definition. I’m hoping we can start telling more personal stories to help express the meaning of the word, which can be broadly defined as people demonstrating compassion for others.

I s­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­tumbled across this video on the website of our colleagues at the Minnesota Council on Foundations. It summed up what I hear so often from those who make a donation in hopes of making a difference in a community or a life. These are the sound bites that resonated with me: “The more you give, the more you get,” “People don’t know the joy,” and “I’m such a different person than I was.”

We gathered up a handful of stories about the reach and impact of Colorado philanthropy in a report and a short documentary this year.  But in this age of social media, we know we can do far more to spread the word and inspire others to come together and make a difference.

Do you have a story to share? We’d like to hear from you. I invite you to contribute a blog post or add a comment here.

Joanne Kelley is the executive director of the Colorado Association of Funders.


About coloradogivingvoice

Colorado Giving Voice is a blog created by the Colorado Association of Funders for sharing, storytelling, and raising awareness about Colorado philanthropy.
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21 Responses to Moment of a Lifetime

  1. Sheila Bugdanowitz says:

    Thank you for sharing this intensely personal and profound experience.

    • Angelle Fouther says:

      Joanne, what a wonderful story. What a wonderful gift to your brother and to you! I love this idea of sharing stories. Thanks for this!

    • Roger says:

      What a wonderful, moving story! It’s amazing what you did for your brother. And it’s a wonderful example of the gift of giving and the impact it can have. Thanks for sharing your story. And please keep us posted about Tom.

  2. What a personal and touching story. Thanks for sharing it, and congrats on the new blog.

  3. Peter Droege says:

    Your reflection captures, at its best, the heart of the work we all strive to accomplish. Many thanks!

  4. paul carroll says:

    joanne, a personal story, which i hope you and your brother will find encouraging: my family went through the same experience when one of my sisters had stage four non-hodgkin’s lymphoma and needed a bone-marrow transplant. three of us turned out to be matches–one of the benefits of a huge family, as it turns out–and my younger brother was chosen. the doctors haven’t been able to find a single cancer cell in her since. that was eight years ago this month, so she is comfortably and confidently enjoying the remaining (many) years of her life.

    here’s the funny thing: she and my brother never got along growing up, but now they have a bond. she says aug. 2 is her new birthday and says she shares it with my brother.

    he gave, and they both got more back.

  5. Cary Walski says:

    Hi Joanne,

    Thank you so much for sharing that wonderful, touching story that captures so well the essence of the philanthropic spirit, and welcome too to the blogosphere! Best wishes for a speedy recovery for your brother. : )

    I just wanted to add that the video that you referred to is called “Philanthropy is…” and I’d like to share the link in case anyone else would like to check it out or even use it in their work.

    It was co-produced by Minnesota Council on Foundations, The Minneapolis Foundation and The Saint Paul Foundation, and it’s been really useful for us in explaining what philanthropy is to folks, which can be an unfamiliar concept for some, although we all engage in it.

    -Cary Walski, MCF web communications associate

  6. Jennifer Nachbur says:

    Joanne, Thank you for so beautifully articulating your personal story in this blog post, and also for creating the most perfect and simple definition for true philanthropy — “people demonstrating compassion for others.” You have certainly gained “legend” status through this experience.
    – Jenny

  7. janice fritsch says:

    Hi Joanne:
    Thanks for writing and posting your story. What a life-changing gift you gave and in the experience, received.

  8. Dave Stalls says:

    My friend Peter shared his experience with me a few years ago. His older brother Jeff called him late one night toward the end of the work week. After some opening banter Jeff told Peter that his doctor that afternoon had told him that he had terminal cancer. Peter of course knew that his brother had been very ill, but this was the first diagnosis. After a few seconds of silence, Peter asked,”since you’re dying, can I have your new yellow kayak?” After a good laugh they shed some tears and started preparing for their journey together.

    Thank you for sharing the unique bond between brother & sister. I wish you and your brother good fortune.

    Every nonprofit has dozens of real life stories, but lately I am most heartened by the pledge letter and website created by Warren Buffet ( and the emerging responses from other billionares.

    Thank you creating your blog.
    Dave Stalls

  9. Ron Karl says:

    beautiful blog, Joanne.

    Uncle Ron

  10. timwjackson says:


    That is a tremendous and powerful story about you and your brother, Tom. Thanks for sharing it here and on the CSAE listserve.

    The story touches home as we have had several friends and family in the same or similar situations. Though the transplant has not always worked out, it has always been worth the effort. We hope and pray that your brother is on the road to longterm recovery. And that you find peace and satisfaction in your lifeline contribution.

    Hope that we can catch up some time. Wonderful to have you in the association biz!


  11. Beth Kanter says:

    What a beautiful thing you did for your brother! And, an excellent way to begin your organization’s blog by modeling the stories you will share through the blog. Can’t wait to read more!

  12. Joyzelle Davis says:

    your story really makes a very true and touching
    point about philanthropy – that it’s the giver who often receives the
    greatest satisfaction. i wish all the best, to say the least, to you and your family

  13. Sarah Stockton says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! The “moment of a lifetime” caption says it all. I look forward to keeping up with your blog.

  14. Sharon Knight says:

    This is a super first blog! The story is written beautifully. It easily captures the heart, and I think, stimulates some internal conversation about how we all (I) can make a difference. Thanks for sharing this Joanne.

  15. Pingback: Bringing it home | Colorado Giving Voice

  16. Maureen McDonald says:

    Dear Joanne, I loved reading your blog and all the responses, especially
    The one from your brother, Tom. I hope he continues to thrive. Thank you for sharing your story and for the great idea..

  17. Pingback: An anniversary | Colorado Giving Voice

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