I’ve been following Janet Liang’s fight against leukemia for nearly a year.
Janet is an incredibly brave, and heartbreakingly young, Asian American heroine who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2009. After a year battling leukemia, Janet went into remission in June 2010, and was cancer-free for nearly a year and a half, during which time she completed her studies at UCLA and became a tutor at a local high school. Recently, however, Janet relapsed and is currently in a fight for her life. She has only weeks left to find a bone marrow match.
Unfortunately, bone marrow donation requires a high degree of genetic similarity between the donor and recipient. Writes Time Magazine:
Time notes that most bone marrow donor matches occur between a donor and a recipient of the same racial background. Unfortunately, national and international bone marrow registries are populated primarily by registered donors of White racial backgrounds. This means that it can be more than twice as hard (and in some cases, far less likely) for non-White recipients to find a donor match. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Overall, Asian American patients find a match only 73% of the time (compared to between 88-92% of White patients), but this number drops precipitously within specific ethnic groups that fall under the Asian American group. For example, only 1 in 20,000 South Asian recipients are able to find a match in the national registry.
In short, there is an incredible need to diversify the national bone marrow registries to help address the incredible, and unfair, disparities facing potential bone marrow recipients of colour. Our ongoing apathy in regards to bone marrow registration is absolutely, and demonstrably, hurting communities of colour.
Thankfully, there are several organizations whose sole mission is to reach out to potential donors of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds; for the Asian American community, they include: AADP, A3M and 100K Cheeks.
Registering to be a bone marrow donor is easy. You can register online with Be The Match (the U.S.’ national registry); registration involves providing your contact information, answering a few generic health questions (height, weight, etc), and requesting a kit be mailed to your home address. The donor kit will contain 4 cotton swabs and instructions for providing cheek cell samples. That sample will be used to type your tissue so that a match can be made.
If you are found to be a match, you will be asked to undergo a more thorough pre-screening test to ensure that you are healthy enough to donate. If you agree to donate, you will do so either through a non-surgical procedure involving the donation of peripheral blood stem cells, or by donation of bone marrow from your pelvic bone. Donation is painless, in most cases non-surgical, and any potential travel costs will be reimbursed (more Myths and Facts about donation here).
I registered as a bone marrow donor back in college, but today I discovered that my registration is not with Be The Match (I could be in another bone marrow registry, or my contact information may not have been updated when I moved).
I just re-registered. You can, too: Act Now! Be The Match.
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Since 2001, Reappropriate has been the web's foremost Asian American activism, identity, feminism, and pop culture blog!