That's the reality for 70 percent of patients needing bone marrow or stem cells. They have no other choice but to go through the bone marrow registry.
Those families rely on complete strangers who are willing to donate whatever they can in hope of saving someone's life.
One of those donors is Aurora resident Denise Camacho. She joined the bone marrow registry never thinking that anything would ever come of it.
"I have a family friend that works with Bonfils," Camacho said. "She emailed me and my family and said there's a huge need for minorities to join the registry. So we went down not knowing anyone of us would ever be called."
But just two years later, she was called to make a donation.
"I got a phone call that I'm a match, but I need to go in for further testing. All they told me was that there was a 13-year-old boy in Cleveland who has leukemia." Camacho said. "How do you say 'no' when there's a family out there that you can help and possibly save a life. I was going to do what I could."
That 13-year-old boy was Enrique Linares. He was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
His entire family, 38 people in all, were tested to be a donor but none of them were a match.
After nearly two years, spent mostly in the hospital, there was a match. It was a match no one expected. Camacho is unrelated and has a different blood type.
Three days after the transplant, Linares got really sick.
He stopped eating. He lost all of his hair. His lungs collapsed and he ended up not eating for 98 days.
But eventually things turned around and the transplant took.
Six years later, Linares and Camacho met for the first time.
"Without her I honestly wouldn't be here right now," Linares said."The first thing I did was start to cry."
Camacho may be a hero in the eyes of many, but she says her hero is Linares.
"I always have thanked him. He changed my life," Camacho said. "I've changed since the donation. I'm thankful to him for fighting, for surviving and this connection we now have. I'm just really grateful for the experience."
Linares is now 23 years old and is eight years in remission.
He developed type two diabetes from his medications during radiation and chemo, but other than that, he has no lingering health problems.
The chance of him ever getting Leukemia again is less than five percent.
There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding being a bone marrow donor. Technology over the years has made the process much easier and less painful.
To get on the registry all you need to do now is fill out some paperwork and get a check swab.
Camacho says the biggest misconception of all: it's painful.
"It was a one day procedure," she said. "I was in and out of the hospital in the same day. I was a little sore like I just rode a horse, but I was good four days later."
You can learn more or register at an upcoming event at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Join Bonfils Blood Center and the Denver Broncos for their annual Drive for Life community blood drive on Tues. Oct. 2, 2012 from 8 am to 3.
To learn more about the Drive for Life Event: http://www.bonfils.org/index.cfm/news-and-events/events-and-promotions/dflxiv/
To learn more about becoming a bone marrow donor click here: http://www.bonfils.org/index.cfm/about-donating/colorado-marrow-donor-program/
(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)