“Get swabbed!” was the directive printed on all the promotional materials for the DKMS and Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) bone marrow donor drive held today (September 25) at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. I knew I wanted to volunteer to work this event the moment I received the email inquiry for volunteers from the LLS. As a blood cancer survivor who was lucky enough to have had a sibling bone marrow donor, I am acutely aware of the patients who are not so fortunate.
I was one of the volunteers situated at the information tables—the first area where potential donors stopped before being tested. Our job was to make sure they were not already in the registry, that they met certain criteria, and that they understood both methods for donating bone marrow: the peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) draw (approximately 70-80% of collections are performed this way) and the bone marrow extraction (approximately 20-30% of collections are performed this way).
We also had to inform them that they would be on the registry until age 61 and that they are donating to any searching patient who matches their tissue type. After visiting our table, they proceeded to registration and testing. Testing involved swabbing the inside of both their cheeks with cotton-tipped swabs. These swabs will be sent to a lab for HLA testing and entered into the Be The Match Registry (operated by the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP)). Donor data is entered in anonymous form and all information is confidential.
Per the NMDP, only 3 out of every 10 patients will receive a transplant that could save their lives. I was so inspired by those who showed up today, and especially pleased at the number of black and Hispanic people who were there, because it is these populations that are sorely underrepresented in the registry.
I encourage all of you to get swabbed; be a bone marrow donor. This afternoon, a young woman who works for DKMS said, “Imagine if everyone in this country were in the registry.” Yes, imagine! If I could, I would be in the registry, but I’ve had cancer, so I cannot; though that is not true for all cancers, as there are exceptions: cervical, breast, and bladder (stage o) and cured skin cancer.
If interested in becoming a bone marrow donor, or if you want to help in some way, here are some ideas per the DKMS brochure:
- Sign up to be a bone marrow donor online
- Donate $65.00 to sponsor a donor (I did this today) – DKMS is a National Donor Center. DKMS does not charge the $65.00 registration fee, so they rely on the generosity of supporters – every dollar counts!
- Organize a bone marrow drive in your community, at your office or school
- Encourage family members and friends to register with DKMS (I’m doing this right now – hint, hint)
- Help DKMS raise funds by holding an event, raffle, etc. in your community
Those who know me, and are familiar with my history, understand how much the work of DKMS, Be The Match, the LLS and other cancer organizations means to me. Again, I encourage you to consider becoming a bone marrow donor. You never know whose life you may save, and to them, your generosity and courage will mean the world; you will be their hero. I guarantee it!