“Right now you have it within your body to be the cure…. It’s a simple cotton swab to the cheek.”James Chippendale, co-founder of Love Hope Strength Foundation
Tom’s best hope for recovering from his very aggressive leukemia is a stem cell transplant. Fortunately, it seems that a donor has been found for him and if all goes well, he will proceed with that treatment very soon.
Tom is lucky to have found a donor, but his situation is not unique. Every day in Canada, about 1,000 people with leukemia, other cancers or hereditary diseases are waiting for a lifesaving stem-cell transplant. About 80% of those who find donors match with someone who lives in another country. But some never find a donor. A patient’s best chance is with a donor from the same ethnic background.
Please sign up to be a stem cell donor. It’s easy. If you are between 17 and 35 in Canada (or 18 and 44 in the United States), you can register online. If you don’t have any health conditions that would prevent you from being a suitable donor, you will be sent a test swab in the mail. Just rub it inside your cheek and mail it back. Alternatively, you could visit a testing centre (post-COVID-19). It’s easy! There’s no need to give blood (or bone marrow). Your sample will be tested and then your information will be kept on the donor list for many years, probably until you are around age 50.
The registry is international, which means that if someone one day needs your stem cells, they could be in Toronto or San Francisco or Mumbai. But don’t worry. You won’t have to fly there. You’ll donate near your home in a process that is a lot like giving blood (it takes a few hours but you can watch television while you donate) and then a specially-trained courier will bring it to the patient. Stem cells cross international borders every day.
(If you are a sexually active man who has male partners, you can still register to be a stem cell donor. The rules are different than for donating blood. So, please do!)
You may never be called to donate your stem cells. But if you are — you might be able to save a life. The person you save may be a stranger, but if you are called it means that nobody in their family was able to donate. As our family knows, the person whose life you might be saving is very, very loved. The gift you give offers someone a chance at a long and healthy life. And even if the transplant doesn’t, in the end, succeed, you will still have offered that family hope and the knowledge that everything possible that could be done to save their partner, parent, sibling or child, was done. And that’s real comfort.
Maureen Colclough (Tom’s sister)
Here’s a trailer for a documentary film about the search for stem cell matches for three people with leukemia, including the famous tenor sax player, Michael Brecker.