#72: Be a stem cell donor

CC licensed image by Flickr user Andres Perez
CC licensed image by Flickr user Andres Perez

My friend Jason was diagnosed with multiple myeloma or bone marrow cancer late last year, at the age of 39. Most of us know someone in our lives diagnosed with cancer and can relate to the heartfelt desire to help them and their families in a meaningful way as well as the strong wish and sense of urgency to contribute to making cancer history.  Jason wrote the message below to his friends and family letting us all know exactly what we can do to help. Please read, comment, pass it on, and if it’s right for you, act. Thank you.

Dear all,
I am getting there!  I just had my 10-week post-transplant check-in with the oncologist and things are looking great!  My numbers look good and my energy levels are up.  I can even restart some of the things I had to avoid before because of my weak immune system. There’s still a long way to go (the next steps are to introduce the maintenance drug and get all my vaccinations again), but I’m well on my way.
Thank you thank you thank you for all of your support.  Calls, cards, food, household chores, visits, waiting around with me at the hospital for hours, and everything else.  It *all* helped.  Every bit.
I keep thinking about how extremely lucky I’ve been.  From the very early detection, to being in otherwise good health, to being able to use my own stem cells for my transplant, to the extensive support network that you have been a part of, I have had the best possible scenario.
Even when I was admitted to the myeloma ward of the hospital for a week, I could see that as bad as it was I was still probably better off than most of the patients there.
The question I’ve heard the most (well, second most right after “How are you feeling?” 🙂 ) is “What can I do to help?”.  I didn’t always have a good answer at the time.  Now I do.
Probably *the* biggest factor in my recovery was being able to use my own stem cells.  For those who need someone else to be a donor, the chances go way way down.  A donor needs to be an exact match and surprisingly, family members often aren’t for stem cells.  There are donor registries in Canada, and in many countries around the world, but they are woefully underpopulated.  With such a low percentage of the population registered, finding an exact match is very unlikely, even though the worldwide registries are coordinated.  If you are part of an ethnic minority (e.g. Jewish, Chinese, Indian, Italian,etc.), your chances go down even further.  Ethnic minorities are even more severely underrepresented.
So here’s what you can do: register to be a stem cell donor.  Getting on the registry is easy: you just give a cheek swab (in Canada, they mail it to you and you mail it back).
Chances are, you will never actually be asked to donate.  If you are though, it means that for somebody out there you are the equivalent of winning the lottery.  You would be directly saving someone’s life.
And here’s the thing: being a stem cell donor, if you ever actually get called, is pretty painless and easy (I’m speaking from experience; I did it).  You get a few injections to make your stem cells go into your blood, then it’s basically the same as giving blood.  That’s it.
So, there are actually two things you can do:
1) Get on the stem cell donor registry.  In Canada it’s www.onematch.ca.  To find the registry in any other country, the list is at: www.bmdw.org.
2) Get as many people as you can to do the same (feel free to copy and paste parts of this email).
If you’re still wondering “What can I do to help?”, this is it.

ps: A few people have asked me about the 17-35 age range for donating (listed on the OneMatch website).  I spoke to someone at OneMatch. Apparently, stem cells from donors in the 17-35 age range lead to the best medical outcomes for transplants.  She also mentioned that, for some reason, stem cells from males in that age range seem to lead to the best outcomes (even when a female is the recipient).

Two things you can do then, if you are not between 17-35:

1) Spread the word and encourage people who *are* to get registered (especially if they are male)

2) Give blood (also in very high demand)

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