Cancer Awareness Week encourages bone marrow transplants, donations

Cancer Awareness Week encourages bone marrow transplants, donations

Cancer Awareness Week encourages bone marrow transplants, donations
April 15
23:58 2015

Harrison Long / Staff Writer

In early 2007, at the tender age of 12, Dasjaevian Davis received some life-changing news. His sister, two years younger, had leukemia.

“It was shocking,” Davis said. “I really didn’t know what to do, or even what leukemia was, until I did a little bit of research.”

Leukemia is a rare form of cancer that begins in blood-forming tissue such as bone marrow, and causes large numbers of abnormal blood cells to enter the bloodstream. There are an approximate 52,000 new cases every year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

“They tested everyone in my family to see how we matched up, if we could be a potential donor for my sister. I was a perfect match,” Davis said.

He underwent surgery shortly thereafter, and although he said he admits to some soreness, the overall process was quick and non-invasive. Although the operation was a success, Davis’ sister passed away two months later from complications surrounding pneumonia.

“It was tough, but I have focused my attention on striving to do good things in my life since then. It makes you realize how lucky you are,” he said.

In lieu of diseases like leukemia, Cancer Awareness Week at UNT is currently taking place, with booths set up by the food pavilion, Onstead Promenade, and outside of most dining halls. The booths will be present throughout the week, in partnership with Be The Match, a non-profit organization that coordinates potential donors with those afflicted by blood marrow diseases.

Started in 2010, the group has signed up over 8,000 new members since its inception and many have donated to those afflicted.

Rhonda Christensen, a professor and research scientist at UNT, received similar news in 2007 – she had leukemia. A video illustrating her battle, created by Be The Match and published on the UNT Student Affairs website, details Christensen’s initial treatment for the affliction before discovering she would need a blood and marrow transplant if she hoped to live. After testing those in her family, none of whom were a perfect match, the odds seemed to stack against her. The odds of finding a potential donor are 1 in 20,000, according to the National Marrow Donor Program.

“You know I have two boys, a husband, my parents, and I’d really like to live a few more years.” Christensen said in the video.

It was then that Be the Match stepped in and opened the door to its international registry, which contains more than 600 leading centers worldwide, with 140 transplant centers in the United States alone.

Through its program, Christensen said she found a match and on June 8, 2008, received a blood-stem cell donation from a complete stranger. Their initial meeting, where they embrace for the first time in an airport terminal, is shown in the video.

The process for signing up is simple, requiring only a cheek swab. Potential donors should be between 18 and 44 years of age with a clean bill of health. Be the Match stresses the more diverse of a background one has, the greater need for their commitment because a greater range in diversity increases the likelihood of being matched with an outlier patient.

Cheryll Bryson, a high school teacher with a daughter at UNT said her family was the ultimate driving force for her.

“It’s a struggle for the patient as well as the family,” Bryson said. “My two children and my husband were what got me through it all. I was determined to be with them.”

For those interested in donating, there are two main ways to do so, and they are chosen based on which is more appropriate for the patient. Peripheral blood-stem cell donation is non-surgical and the most common way to donate. Donors receive a drug that increases the number of cells in the blood stream used for transplant and are gathered in an outpatient procedure.         In addition, bone marrow donation is surgical and performed under anesthesia.

“I want to encourage anyone who is on the fence to further explore the option of signing up for Be the Match,” Davis said. “You can literally save someone’s life, and the very possibility of such, that passion for other people, it’s a great feeling.”

Featured Image: Participants run during the 5K portion of the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month event at Arkadas Park, Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Oct. 1, 2011. The event was sponsored by the Health and Wellness Center, fitness center and women’s health clinic to increase breast cancer awareness and raise money for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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