I have wanted to do this for a long time but I was scared. I was scared of eventually being called for a donation, and that it’d be really painful, or that the procedure would go wrong, and I’d get really hurt or something, so I decided to stick to just giving blood.
But then two things happened:
1) We started haematology and
As I mentioned in my last post, haematology is very malignancy heavy, so our first weeks of lectures focused on the blood cancers, and it was around this time that I started hearing about the Match4Lara campaign.
Lara is 24, and in December, she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. AML is a blood cancer that affects white blood cells; DNA mutations in stem cells cause accumulation of immature cells in the bone marrow, and these cells don’t have the ability to fight infections as well as fully developed ones. Treatment involves chemotherapy to kill the leukaemia cells, but the most effective treatment is a stem cell/bone marrow transplant.
Stem cells from donors allow people with AML to produce new, healthy white blood cells. Finding the right donor is the tricky part though, as donors need to be close HLA matches with the recipients. Siblings are usually matches, as HLA markers are inherited from parents, so having an identical twin would work in my favour if (God forbid) I ever needed a donor, because Kenny would be a match.
Lara isn’t a twin though. She has a brother, but there was only 1 in 4 chance of him being a match for her, and unfortunately, he wasn’t. Lara’s situation was made even trickier by her mixed heritage; she’s Chinese-Thai-Italian, and the worldwide donor registry doesn’t have a lot of mixed raced people on it, so finding a match seemed impossible. As a result of this, the Match4Lara campaign was born, and it’s aim was to get more people (especially mixed raced people) on the bone marrow register.
I followed the campaign on social media and was very moved by it all, so I started researching what donating stem cells would involve, because I was still scared that it would be painful.
Peripheral blood stem cell donation involves receiving injections for four days, which increase the number of stem cells in the blood, and the stem cells are separated on the fifth day similarly to how a blood donation is done, and this takes five to six hours.
It can also be done by removing bone marrow from the hip bones while under general anaesthetic. This method requires about 5 days of recovery, and donors would need to stay in hospital for up to two days.
Common side effects are bone and muscle pain, headaches and tiredness, and 1 in 100 people experience complications. Yes, there is still the risk of pain, but I realised that compared to how you could, you know, save someone’s life, it’s really nothing.
So after explaining everything to Abs (my mother), she finally gave me her approval. You might be thinking that it’s immature of me to ask for my mum’s permission, but it was more than that. Getting her to understand the importance of more people of colour becoming donors meant a lot to me, because she has always supported everything I’ve done, and I wanted this to be no exception.
She eventually did, and this happened:
I will be getting my saliva kit soon, and I am BUZZING.