- Category: Volume 86 (Fall 2014 - Spring 2015)
- Published: 29 October 2014
We all know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There are walks to raise money for research taking place across and the color pink has become just as popular in October as orange and black. Because of initiatives like these, public awareness about this horrible disease has greatly increased and we're closer than ever to finding a cure and saving even more lives. There's also another cancer fighting initiative coming up in November that could also save people's lives and all it takes to help is a cotton swab.
November has been designated National Marrow Awareness Month to raise public awareness about fighting diseases like Leukemia and Lymphoma and the importance of registering as a bone marrow donor.
Someone in my family battled Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) which is what really opened my eyes to how devastating these blood cancers can be and how much being a marrow donor can help. AML is type of leukemia that, according to Cancer.gov, causes "the bone marrow makes abnormal myeloblasts (a type of white blood cell), red blood cells, or platelets."
My aunt's niece, 13-year-old Hayli Hough, just beat AML. She was diagnosed in August of 2013 and after four rounds of chemotherapy, the cancer was gone. Unfortunately, she relapsed this past April and following two more bouts with chemo, the decision was made to get Hayli a bone marrow transplant. Since the procedure, she is doing great. Hayli was recently released from the hospital and no longer requires 24-hour doctor care. The cancer is gone for the second time. This transplant saved her life.
But the one thing that my aunt told me about the transplant that really stuck out was that the marrow that was donated did not come from the United States. It came from Europe because there were no compatible matches to Hayli on our side of the Atlantic.
This lack of potential matches here in America is an issue that can easily be addressed. The best way to make circumstances like Hayli's a rare occurrence rather than the norm is to simply have more people registered as potential marrow donors through organizations like the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP).
The NMDP also operates BetheMatch.org, a website that makes it very easy to learn more about marrow transplants and about how to become a donor, as well as register to become a potential match.
When it comes to who is eligible to register, Be the Match says that anyone between 18 and 60 may do so. However, it also says that "doctors request donors in the 18-44 age group over 90 percent of the time" as those in that age bracket are so often found to be positive matches.
Due to this, it is also free for those in the 18-44 age range to register online or at a community donor drive. Oddly enough, many of those most likely to be potential donors are the same age as the average college student.
All it takes to register is a cotton swab to the inside of the cheek. The DNA that is obtained from this simple procedure is placed into the bone marrow registry and if you are a match to a patient who needs a transplant, you will be contacted. Those interested can also register online at BetheMatch.org.
However, if donating marrow is not an option, there is still a way for everyone to help. Be the Match also "relies on financial contributions to grow the registry of potential marrow donors, help patients with crippling transplant costs and advance the science of transplant."
With midterms having just finished up, college often seems like nothing but unneeded stress and hard work. We sometimes forget that we have been given a very great opportunity as college students. We have been given the chance to further our education and one day begin a career doing what we love. That is an opportunity that fortunate patients like Hayli can one day take advantage of, but others who are not as fortunate might not get that chance. The only way to help ensure that every patient gets the opportunity at a regular life is to continue to raise awareness about blood cancers and register as potential marrow donors.
Just like Breast Cancer Awareness Month, designating November as National Marrow Awareness Month is a great start. But there really isn't any reason to only fight these diseases one month out of the year.
Hopefully, in time, the number of potential matches in the United States will grow and we will be closer to curing blood cancers all together. That can only happen if more people donate and sign up for NMDP registry. Patients in need cannot get transplants unless we register to "Be the Match" that could save their life.
IMAGE TAKEN from BeTheMatch.com