Every 35 seconds, someone in the world is diagnosed with a blood cancer, many patients being children and young people. On May 28 of each year, thousands of people come together in efforts of raising awareness for World Blood Cancer day—a global day of awareness dedicated to the fight against blood cancer.
This year, thousands of people made a difference by coming together to make a mark against blood cancer in many different ways.
For many patients, a bone marrow or blood stem transplant is the best chance of survival. Whereas 30 percent of patients can find a matching donor in their families, approximately 70 percent, more than 14,000 patients each year, must rely on strangers to step up and donate. Unfortunately, less than half will get transplants.
“Race is an important factor in bone marrow donation,” stated Jordan Segal, a DKMS donor recruitment coordinator. “Patients are more likely to find their matches with someone who share the same ancestry as them. Unfortunately, people of different ethnic background are severely underrepresented on the bone marrow registry, greatly reducing their odds of finding a match.”
Currently, the donor pool is made up of 11 percent Latinos, 7 percent African-American and 7 percent Asians.
“It is important for everyone to sign up to become a donor,” stated Quiana Parks, DJ, visual artist, social-influencer, philanthropist and cancer survivor. “There is a gap right now in the donor pool for transplant donors, and we need more people to sign up because these numbers do need to go up. Within the African-American community and with everything that is going on, unity is very important. Everyone should at least go out and see if there is a possibility that you to be a match for someone. I personally can’t sign up to be a match because I am a cancer survivor, but I can’t imagine how amazing it must feel to have saved someone’s life just by signing up to become a donor.”
A survivor of Lymphoma, Parks, 30, created “DJ for a Cure,” an awareness project that bridges her love for music with building a discussion around blood cancers. “DJ for a Cure” has helped raised money and has donated to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, Delete Blood Cancer | DKMS and Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation.
“I really wanted to do something to help the cause—something I could do while I shared my story and helped others,” said Parks. “When I was 19 years old and going through cancer, I wondered how I could help without having to run a 5k marathon. I started ‘DJ for a Cure’ to do so. I started doing events and inviting cancer patients, their families, survivors and their families and people in the community to bring awareness to blood cancer and the severity of it.”
Fortunately, Parks did not need a bone marrow, but she went through chemotherapy and radiation. “Even though I did not need a bone marrow, I know many people who did and still do,” added Parks. “Some people passed away because they could not find matches. Working with ‘DJ for a Cure,’ I’ve been meeting a lot of people who have blood cancer and also people who had it and had to have treatment. Meeting people who had to go through way more than I did makes me want to do nothing more than fight for them to have a chance.”
According to www.worldbloodcancerday.org, blood cancer refers to defects that stop the normal blood cell processes of maturation and natural cell death. These dysfunctional blood cells are called cancer cells. They enter the bloodstream and multiply uncontrollably, crowding out the healthy cells. The blood can no longer fulfill its tasks, such as oxygen transportation and the defense against germs.
“Blood cancer” is therefore a general description for various diseases of the blood-forming system, such as leukemia, multiple myeloma and malignant lymphoma. The blood cancer leukemia is the most common pediatric cancer in the U.S.
Cancer patients who suffer from diseases of the blood-forming system can be treated with a stem cell transplant from a healthy, matching donor. The transplant of healthy stem cells helps the patient’s bone marrow to regenerate and to start forming healthy blood cells again. For many blood cancer patients, a stem cell transplant is the only chance of survival.
“Anyone looking to donate can attend any DKMS donor drive found across the country,” said Segal. “They can go onto our website, DKMS.org, and find a drive nearest to them. Registration can also be done directly through our website. By clicking on the register icon towards the top of the page, it will bring you through a number of the eligibility requirements.”
DKMS is an international nonprofit organization, founded 26 years ago in Germany by Dr. Peter Harf when he lost his wife Mechtild to leukemia. He promised her that he would help every blood cancer patient find a matching donor. Today, DKMS has offices in Germany, the United States, Poland, Spain and the U.K. and has registered more than 7.4 million potential donors worldwide, leading to more than 63,000 patients receiving second chances at life.
In the U.S., DKMS has registered more than 900,000 potential donors and facilitated more than 2,500 life-saving transplants. Every day DKMS leads the fight against blood cancer by working with families, communities and organizations to recruit more donors and provide more patients with second chances at life. Globally, DKMS registers more than 1 million new potential donors every year.
“Unfortunately not everyone is eligible to be a donor,” added Segal. “It’s important that anyone registering to be a donor become educated, because there are two separate methods of donation, and it is really important that you are OK with both of them. The donation method will not be up to you. It will be up to the doctor to decide what the best method is for that patient. Once you find out you are eligible and you are OK with both procedures, you simply fill out your registration form and do a cheek swab, which is about 30 seconds on both sides to collect cells for use in matching with a patient.”
“It doesn’t take more than a day to change your life and someone else’s,” said Parks.
For more information on blood cancer and registration, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-209-6700, or visit DKMS.org.