This is how you do a video PSA about childhood cancer.

This video from City of Hope, a large cancer research and treatment center in Los Angeles, documents the story of Gavin Wolfrank, a boy first diagnosed with leukemia at 7 months old. His treatment of high-dose chemotherapy continued until he was 4, when a matching donor for a bone marrow transplant was finally found... on the other side of the world.

Gavin wanted to meet this extraordinary stranger who saved his life, and City of Hope made it happen. We are hoping to raise awareness around the life-saving impact of people willing to donate their bone marrow and continue to make stories like this possible. Please watch this video and help us share with your community. Finding an exact bone marrow match is often times an up hill battle but there is strength in numbers if we can continue to encourage others to sign up for a registry.

So, the story is beautiful, and it's impossible not to empathize with this sweet kid, his loving family, and the wonderful woman who donated bone marrow to save a life. The cause is worthy. But I also want to draw attention to how tastefully this video was produced.

I have cancer, and I spend a lot of time monitoring media about cancer. I get really, really sick of cancer center promotional videos with maudlin piano music, and sappy, cloying narratives about children and adults bravely "battling" cancer. Whether you're 4 or 40, IMO this cliché doesn't fit the experience. The cancer battles you. You just do all you can to live through treatment, and beyond.

Pity dehumanizes us. Pity comes with an unspoken assumption that the person with cancer is not going to be around for long. I hate cancer-pity.

But in this video, the viewer isn't inspired to feel pity for Gavin, or anyone else with cancer. They're inspired to get involved.

Bravo, whoever produced it.

And, hey, Gavin? Live long and prosper, little dude.

Learn more about bone marrow transplant research or join the National Bone Marrow registry here.

(Thanks, @_ellelu)


  1. So I type in my editor, “What is important?”  The next thing I did was to look to become a donor.   Hopefully I will follow through.

  2. Xeni, as someone who produces advocacy videos, thank you so much for this example and your critique. My personal response to this video: How can I become a bone marrow donor?

  3. I signed up for their registry a decade ago but now that I’ve become a type II diabetic they tell me I’m no longer eligible.  Anyone know why?

    1. My guess would be that donating bone marrow is done through (a small) surgery, and they don’t want it to risk the donor in any way. And having diabetes would be an increased risk.

      I just checked what the rules are for registering in my country, and where as I previously didn’t qualify due to weight I also now am permanently out due to age. (A bit strange rule there for my country… you cannot register if you are over 40, but you can stay until you are 55? But note, this was for my country, yours can have different rules.) Edit: Yes! For the US the age limits are 18-60, although 18-44 are better matches as younger donors produce more and higher quality cells.

      Edit2: And at least that medical guideline says that diabetes II in itself doesn’t disqualify, but you will need a medical evaluation. “In general, if your diabetes is well controlled by either diet or oral medications, you will be allowed to register.”

      1. > 18-44 are better matches as younger donors produce more and
        > higher quality cells.

        But my cells have a certain worldly wisdom that an 18 year old’s cells just can’t match.

  4. Oh man, is it dusty in here! And my cold is really acting up. *sniff*

    That was truly beautiful! And really well done, it really brought, at least for me, a need to register as a donor too. Unfortunately I don’t qualify. :(

  5. For Canadians:
    I just signed up. I couldn’t give blood for years, because of a childhood spent in the land of mad cow disease (UK), but I’ve been meaning to register for bone marrow for a while now since my dad had a transplant (he was able to do autologous though). This beautiful vid spurred me into action.

  6. Thanks for sharing this. What a great video. Totally made the waterworks flow over here. My seven-year-old goddaughter just finished two years of treatment for leukemia (ALL) and is doing better than anyone could imagine. Sadly, two months after her last treatment, one of her friends was diagnosed with AML. What the hell are the odds?! Makes you realize how important it is to be a bone marrow donor if you can. Unfortunately, due to spinal fractures I suffered as a teen, I was deemed ineligible to be a bone marrow donor. But I donate blood as often as I’m allowed. Leukemia patients are given red cell treatments constantly to keep their counts up. You never know when you or a loved one will rely on the gift of a stranger. 

    1.  Forgive my ignorance, but aren’t most bone marrow transplants taken from the donor’s pelvis?  If so, how would damage to the vertebrae preclude one from donation.  If I’m wrong about most donations from the pelvis, please correct me, as only a fool wouldn’t care to learn from his mistake.

  7. Xeni,
    Beautifully done.  Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention.

    Real people, telling their stories.  This is all people need to understand the reality of cancer. 

    And I agree with your thoughts on pity.  The person who pities is not real. Pity turns people with cancer in to objects.  

    Lord knows we aren’t:)

  8. For Canadians, sign up here:

    I just did.

  9. I waited until I was finally home today to watch this. What a beautiful video and story. My best friend’s son had leukemia. He relapsed while still undergoing chemo, a rare occurrence. He was fortunate enough to have a perfect bone marrow match in his younger sister, Grace. She saved his life. There isn’t a time that I see them that I don’t think about this… and how lucky he was to have a match in the family. 

    This story reminds us how valuable selflessness can be. My friend wanted to give back after her daughter saved her son’s life. She wasn’t sure what to do. Then she realized she could volunteer to be a donor herself. She sent in her cheek swab and hopes to give the gift of life to someone else. 

    Thank you for sharing, Xeni.

  10. It is truly amazing that we live in an age that a little boy can be saved by a woman thousands of miles away – a woman who thought nothing but to inconvenience herself slightly so that someone else might have the gift of life. It is a gift – this life that we have – made all the more valuable when we give pieces of it to others. Beautiful video and post – thank you, Xeni.

  11. Great PSA. Also important stuff to note: Lots of people – especially minorities and people of mixed race – die waiting for a match. Also, it seems that children get bone marrow transplants, but most often a simpler procedure is used to get blood stem cells. Finally, even if you are on the registry (and thanks! if you are) blood cancer patients are always in need of blood and PLATELETS. They help your blood clot. There are few things scarier than needing them and being told the hospital is all out – and that happens. Thanks for a great article Xeni, and hope you are doing well!

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