Sunday October 22, 2017

Love and laughter in the time of chemotherapy

Manjusha Pawagi is a Toronto judge and mother whose only chance to beat leukemia was a stem cell transplant. A world-wide search resulted in just one match. Ms. Pawagi has written a book about her story called "Love and Laughter in the Time of Chemotherapy"

Manjusha Pawagi is a Toronto judge and mother whose only chance to beat leukemia was a stem cell transplant. A world-wide search resulted in just one match. Ms. Pawagi has written a book about her story called "Love and Laughter in the Time of Chemotherapy" (Credit: CanIndia NEWS)

Listen 26:35

In April of 2014, Manjusha Pawagi — a Toronto youth and family court judge, writer, and mother of 11-year-old twins — was diagnosed with highly aggressive leukemia.

She had chemotherapy. She had radiation. Nothing worked. She was desperately ill.

Just six weeks after she was diagnosed, she was told that her only hope was a high-risk stem cell transplant. And the odds were heavily stacked against her.

Manjusha's South Asian origins meant that her chances of finding a matching donor ranged from one in a hundred thousand, to one in a million. 

manjusha_big

A poster for the campaign to find a stem cell match for Manjusha Pawagi.

Friends, family and colleagues rallied. Urgent pleas went out. But it was a painstaking search on the worldwide stem cell registry that produced a breakthrough.

It's a miracle. A match was found.

In 2007, Jay Sethna, a 20-year-old from Staten Island, New York, had attended an Indian community gathering in a hotel. He sang, he ate, he mingled.

And on his way out, along with all the other young men, he was asked to give a swab — a simple DNA sample for New York's stem cell registry. He agreed.

A Q-tip was rubbed on the inside of his cheek, and off he went. 

And forgot about it — until 7 years ago, and a phone call that would change his life.

Manjusha and Jay

Jay Sethna and Manjusha Pawagi. Jay's stem cell donation saved Manjusha's life. Hear their story in Alisa Siegel's award-winning documentary, "Manjusha Meets Her Match." (Alisa Siegel)

In the stem cell world, as in adoption, information about both donors and recipients is highly confidential. Only when both parties look for connection, can one be facilitated.  

As soon as she was able, Manjusha set out to find the anonymous donor who saved her.  

This week we reprise Alisa Siegel's documentary, "Manjusha Meets Her Match." It was first broadcast exactly a year ago, and was recently honoured with a Gabriel Award. 

Love and Laughter in the Time of Chemotherapy

(Second Story Press)

Manjusha Pawagi recently completed a memoir about her experience with cancer. Love and Laughter in the Time of Chemotherapy is published by Second Story Press. 

Jay Sethna will travel from Staten Island, New York, to attend the book launch in Toronto this November. 

Together, they will celebrate the third anniversary of the stem cell transplant that saved Manjusha's life.

Click 'listen' above to hear the documentary.