Michael and Marie McDougall

“A sister is a gift to the heart, a friend to the spirit, a golden thread to the meaning of life.” -Isadora James

Marie and Michael, siblings, were no strangers to cancer and the way it can catapult into their life. Their mom and uncle both died in 1995 from cancer and Mikes’ mother-in-law would later be diagnosed and die from cancer, years later.

Marie was 36 years old, living in Toronto with her boyfriend Danny and Gumby the cat and happily working on her career. She had many dear friends and spent dinners laughing with them, chatting about everything as many women do. Marie lived in Austria for a year where she learned how to ski as well as speak German. One of her greatest passions was art, as she had a gift to translate thoughts and feelings into beautiful paintings.

Her brother said about Marie, “One of the things that everyone loved about Marie was her outgoing and friendly personality. Marie made everything seem better. She could stay up talking and laughing literally all night long.”

Not feeling very well, Marie went to the doctor and after a series of tests, she was told she had Ewing’s Sarcoma – a cancer that can develop anywhere in the body, although it most often starts in the bone.

After a series of treatment, the doctors at Princess Margaret Hospital told Marie that she needed to have three of her ribs removed, and she didn’t flinch. “She was ready for the battle,” Mike said.

At home in recovery for several months, Marie was still not feeling well so she went to the emergency and was shortly rushed to Princess Margaret Hospital, with the diagnosis that she had no bone marrow in her body.

A call that Marie would place to Mike the next day, changed both of their lives. She – was informed that a bone marrow donor was her only hope. He – was the closest relative that would have the best chance at being a match. Without hesitation, Mike arrived at Princess Margaret Hospital to undergo a series of tests. Not long after, good news came for Marie.

When Mike talks about being a donor, he responds “there was no decision about being a donor – ever. Without a bone marrow transplant, Marie had a zero per cent change of living. With a donor, there was a possibility…”

 

“It is not how you learn the lesson but rather what you have learned from the lesson!


Mike remembers asking the oncologist who was treating Marie at the time, “If it was your daughter, what would you do?” and the physician replied “if it was my daughter I would have her in here tomorrow morning and do the bone marrow transplant first thing.”

This frank reply and ability to speak with staff at PMH regarding Marie’s care was something that both Marie and Mike came to appreciate. After many months being at Marie’s side, Mike is quick to point out how grateful he is for the staff at PMH and for the care they provided to his sister around the clock. “It takes a special person to do that kind of work and PMH is full of amazing staff,” said Mike.

Talking about the bone marrow donation, Mike speaks with an ease that is uncommon saying, “It simply wasn’t a choice but an action. By the time someone needs a bone marrow transplant, they have no chances left. If I am your only chance of living, I will do anything to help. It shouldn’t be a decision but rather recognizing that the benefits far outweigh any consequences.”

“Helping people just because you can is an incredible feeling.”

 

Consequences, sadly, is what Mike and Marie learned more about as time went on. Even though Mike was a ‘perfect match’ for Marie, for whatever reason, her body did not take to the bone marrow donation. In June 2001, Marie passed away from cancer.

Mike said that the hardest thing he ever had to do in life was deliver his sister’s eulogy. “On a scale of one to 10, it rates as a 20. It was the most painful thing I have ever had to do – much more than going through the process of being a bone marrow donor,” said Mike.

Despite the outcome, Mike is grateful for the opportunity to be a donor and provide the chance that Marie desperately needed. The experience impacted him forever as he quit his job to start his own company and he changed his outlook on life, finding ways to appreciate the smallest details in every day. “There’s no such thing as a bad day anymore,” Mike says. “I have every reason in the book to complain about having a bad day, but it’s up to me to make it a better day – and that’s what Marie would have wanted.”