By Kahlia Ha-Young Kim-Sheppard
Have you ever considered that you could potentially be the cure to someone’s cancer? Because you could be – it happens. You don’t need to be a doctor or ever set foot in a hospital, but you could cure cancer.
How is this possible? The answer: bone marrow transplants.
Why should you trust me? I know this because a perfect stranger cured my cancer.
In 2011, almost overnight, I went from being a 16-year-old teenager that went to the doctor for missing school because of a ‘cold’, to being a Stage 4 cancer patient. I was diagnosed with Histiosytic Sarcoma, a rare form of lymphoma and was told I had three months to live.
That was almost five years ago.
I underwent numerous experimental treatments, but they were all Band-Aid solutions. I had numerous tumours around my abdomen; chemotherapy was effective in shrinking them, but the main cause was in my bone marrow. The bone marrow is located in your hip and creates stem cells. My bone marrow was diseased and was producing cancerous stem cells, which in turn, were feeding the tumours. No amount of chemo was going to stop my bone marrow from creating these cancerous cells.
The solution was to destroy all the stem cells in my bone marrow and have it replaced. All we had to do was find a replacement. When finding a donor, the closer you are to the donor genetically, the more likely you are going to be a match. This means donors and recipients of the same ethnic backgrounds have a high chance of success. 1 in 4 people who need a bone marrow transplant will not receive one, as they will not find a match.
What can you do?
The first step is to register for the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry. This is as simple as going to the Red Cross to donate 20-30ml of blood. That’s it! Being on the registry doesn’t mean you have to donate stem cells; rather, it puts your information into a worldwide database. If anyone around the world requires a bone marrow transplant and is a match, you will be called in and asked to donate your stem cells. However, there is only a 1 in 1500 chance that you will ever be asked to donate.
Donating stem cells is simple and almost completely painless (no Will Smith in ‘Seven Pounds’ action). There are two options for donation: the first involves being given daily injections for four days to encourage stem cells to move from the bone marrow into your blood, which is then collected like a regular blood donation; the second option is through anaesthesia, wherein your stem cells are collected from your bone marrow. You might be sore for a day or two, but it is a low-risk procedure and the benefits to another person’s life outweigh the slight discomfort by miles.
In order to encourage people to sign up to the Bone Marrow Donor Registry, I have developed a campaign called, ‘A Better Tomarrow’. My goal is to get 100 people to sign up to the registry during 2016 and we need your help. YOU could be the cure to someone’s cancer but you won’t know until you register.