By Gabe Licht
When Sheryl Brunken’s close friend, Lisa Korslund, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, the Delano woman felt helpless.
“I remember feeling bad I couldn’t help her because there’s typically an age limit for donating stem cells,” Brunken said. “If I were younger, I would have clearly signed up. Unfortunately, I was not able to help out at that time.”
That hasn’t kept Brunken from helping in other ways, such as walking in her third Be the Match Walk/Run Saturday.
“I’ve done it three times so far and it’s always in support of Lisa,” Brunken said. “If it wasn’t for Lisa, I probably wouldn’t have done it. Since she’s such an awesome friend, given her diagnosis of leukemia, I do whatever I can to support her.”
Brunken and Korslund met more than 30 years ago while working together at Pillsbury.
When Korslund left the company, the two did not stay in touch. They got back in touch when Brunken joined Korslund at General Mills in 1992.
“It first started at work all those years ago, but has turned into a tremendous friendship, despite the fact she did several tours in Europe,” Brunken said.
Korslund was living and working in Europe when she received her leukemia diagnosis.
While Brunken couldn’t be there in person, her support was evident.
“When I was in the hospital in Switzerland, she was on the short list of people I called when I needed help,” Korslund said. “My girls were coming to Concordia to camp and I couldn’t come with. We sent the girls and Sheryl was a part of the two-person team that went with them to get ready. She got my kids organized and did the laundry.”
After a while, it became evident that Korslund should move stateside.
“We came back to the US after three months,” Korslund said. “We needed family support.”
Brunken met Korslund at Mayo Clinic and stayed with her for a couple days. Her surgery was scheduled for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Before that could happen, Brunken watched a video about how to care for Korslund’s port for her chemotherapy.
“We had to watch it four times,” Korslund said. “Here we are, engineers, and we had to replay it four times. We were in our 50s and studying like schoolgirls. Now, it’s funny. I’m not sure it was funny then.”
A snowstorm broke out when Korslund was set to meet her family, but Brunkel still drove her friend to make that reunion possible.
Korslund’s bone marrow transplant went off without a hitch once she found a match.
Siblings have a 25 percent chance of being a match, but none of Korslund’s siblings were. Instead, they found a match for Korslund in Germany.
That makes sense since ethnic heritage is a main factor in finding a match.
“There’s something called HLA factors. We had 10 out of 10, which is considered a perfect match,” Korslund said.
The bone marrow transfusion took place Dec. 2, 2010.
“Bone marrow can kill the patient because it’s so powerful,” Korslund said. “They have to settle it in. I had a very smooth settling in. Overall, I had no issues. I was released early and have been a thriving person ever since.”
Be the Match launched its first walk/run in 2010 in Atlanta, where Korslund has family. Her dad’s employer started a group in her name, which her mom, sister, and two nephews walked with. At the time, Korslund was still seeking a match.
Her goal became to be strong enough to walk in the Minneapolis Be the Match Walk/Run in May of 2011.
“There were 27 of us in the pouring rain,” Korslund said.
Nonetheless, she achieved her goal.
During the most recent walk, she was joined by her donor, Rike, and her doctor at the finish line.
She has raised between $12,000 and $24,000 every year, for a total of more than $100,000 over five years.
She also works at registry drives and speaks on behalf of the National Marrow Donor Program and Be the Match about 20 times a year.
Tuesday, Korslund spoke at her daughters’ school, along with her donor, Rike.
Be the Match raises funds to build a bigger registry so everyone can find a match. Even with 25 million people on the donor list, Korslund said there is still a significant number of people who don’t find a match.
Be the Match also helps cover costs not covered by insurance. Futhermore, Be the Match funds life-saving research that has paved the way for older patients to receive bone marrow transplants.
“If I had been diagnosed five years earlier, I wouldn’t have been eligible for a transplant because it was higher risk at my age,” Korslund said.
Many people can relate to Korslund’s diagnosis, as every three minutes, someone is diagnosed with blood cancer like leukemia.
For more information about Be the Match, follow the link at www.delanoheraldjournal.com.