With a packed van, sisters Sam and Alex Kimura are on a mission to travel through all 50 U.S. states — but this isn't just any ordinary road trip.
Sam has aplastic anemia and a bone marrow transplant is the only cure. Unfortunately, no one in her family is a match.
"As a 22-year-old, you know, you want to have your whole life stretched out ahead of you and that you have limitless possibilities," Sam told CBS News. "But it's hard knowing that I might not have that."
So Sam and Alex embarked on a mission, with their friend Taylor Shorten, to travel the country and find Sam a match. But in doing so, they realized they could make an even bigger impact.
The sisters explain that along their journey, they realized Sam was not alone. In fact, she is one of thousands of Americans who need a donor.
Moreover, millions of people could be potential matches, but they're not registered.
So Alex, Sam, and Taylor started S.A.M (Sharing America's Marrow), a non-profit organization on a "cross country quest for bone marrow donors," that will both share Sam's story and, in doing so, "inspire others to join the donor registry to give patients fighting blood cancer a second chance at life," according to the organization's Facebook page.
In their red van, marked with a map of the states and the slogan "turning regular people into heroes," the women have traveled to Tennessee, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Maine, Wisconsin, and many states in between.
At every stop, including university quads, concerts, breweries, churches, and more, they enlist community members and volunteers to help get people swabbed and register to be blood donors. Their ultimate goal? Swabbing 50,000 cheeks.
And their plan is working. So far, the women have driven over 15,000 miles, hosted over 150 events, visited 41 states, registered over 12,500 donors, and have found nearly 100 donor matches for those in need.
"This has been the hardest, yet most rewarding year of our lives. We have experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows," Alex tells A Plus in an email.
"One day we will want to cry, wondering if what we are doing is making a difference and how we are going to make it to the end, and the next day we will be crying from laughing, in awe of the beautiful country we are seeing and how kind it's people are."
Moreover, as young women, Alex says running S.A.M. has taught them how to handle opposition, rejection and doubt from the outside world.
"People will ask us, 'who drives you all?' Or, 'who is really in charge?' And it feels very good to be able to say 'we do,' and 'we are,'" Alex adds.
Alex tells A Plus that many people have misconceptions about becoming donors, and she hopes to communicate and educate people in order to raise awareness around blood cancer.
"You could be the ONE person in the world that could save a patient's life. That patient is a fellow human being who is just waiting on someone to step up to help them," she explains. "You could be that one person that could give a sister, or a child, or a parent, or a friend, or a spouse, a chance to keep living."
Does it hurt?
Alex reassures people that becoming a donor isn't as painful or scary as it's been made out to be. 75 percent of people just need to give blood stem cells, like giving platelet or plasma, and the 25 percent that are asked to give bone marrow do so in a procedure handled while the patient is under anesthesia.
"You might experience some soreness for a few days following the procedure, but again, you have saved a life. You don't lose anything permanently — you regenerate everything you donate within a few weeks. And I can't say it enough, you save a life," Alex says.
Over the course of their road trip, in the van they named Maggie, Alex says the women enjoy popping popcorn in their micro-fridge, singing along to musicals, stopping for a hike in the mountains, exploring waterfalls, finding the country's best tacos, appreciating their time together.
"Once we got used to having everything we own stuffed into one cabinet, we found it really nice to only have a few things," she says. Interestingly enough, "Gas stations feel like second homes to us, and we love seeing how they change depending on what part of the country we are in, yet stay consistently familiar no matter what."
The women have nine states left as they make their way back home, but they don't plan on stopping once they get there.
Alex says that she, Taylor, and Sam will continue to be advocates for the donor registry. She's writing a book and creating a short documentary about their experiences over the past year.
"Sam wants to go back to school and Taylor wants to help mentor students who are interested in going into the nonprofit sector," she added.
For these inspiring women, there is no brake (pun intended).
"We have never felt more alive."
(H/T: The Huffington Post)