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When I Learned I Couldn’t Donate Bone Marrow as a Cancer Survivor

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About four years ago, during my freshman year of college, I first heard about an organization called Be the Match. It is a major part of the National Marrow Donor Program and something that requires simple but extensive participation by the entire population. They connect healthy bone marrow donors to patients that are being treated for leukemia, lymphoma and other diseases that could be cured with a transplant. It is super simple to join and only takes a couple of mouth swabs before they get your results and wait until they have a match. With more than 20 million people on the registry, there is a good chance that many people will never have an opportunity to donate, but that is just more of a reason to join.

Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to get the call and have the opportunity to donate bone marrow to a 78-year-old leukemia patient. It started with an in-depth explanation of how everything would work and a constant question of consent and comfort with the process. I had some extra blood tests done to get more details and I ended up not being the best match possible. Someone else had better matching blood, and I hope that person got to make a difference in that patient’s life.

Since that brief moment, my health took its own turn as I battled and defeated testicular cancer last year at the age of 20. I’ve talked about it a lot since, especially with the help of Movember. Everyone always asked what was the worst part of having cancer, and for anyone that has gone through it you know, it is the weeks of destructive and curing chemotherapy. In the moment, it’s difficult to always reconcile that the poison your doctor is giving you is also the hopeful cure for your cancer. Chemo absolutely changes your body, and I was prepared for most of the side effects (I looked great bald!), but not for the ones that persisted after I was cancer-free. Some of those were simple such as certain tastes that triggered physical memories of the chemo or a slight ringing in the ear, and others were a little more complicated, such as the possibility of infertility. However, I didn’t think about how chemo could affect my opportunities to help others survive.

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted again by Be the Match and was told that I was a possible match for a 14-year-old boy with leukemia. I was incredibly excited about the opportunity as I didn’t get to help last time, and it had also been a long time since I even donated blood. Obviously I understood that my cancer might affect my chances, but it had been more than a year and I was feeling healthier than ever. I called back right away and they were so excited that I would volunteer to donate. I then told them I had cancer and went through chemotherapy, and their tone changed pretty quickly. The contact person began searching through their list of exclusions trying to see if there was any way for me as a healthy, 21-year-old to still be able to donate. Unfortunately, chemotherapy is just too damaging, and I would be deferred for life from donating.

It was pretty crushing knowing that I would never have the opportunity to help make another cancer patient a cancer survivor like me. I have no idea who that 14-year-old boy is and I probably never will, but he still needs someone to help him survive. If I can’t be that person, I hope someone else can. Joining the bone marrow registry is a matter of life and death for some people and I hope that all of you reading this understand the impact that you could possibly have by joining.

We need every healthy human on the registry so that each patient in need can be assured that a match is out there. White patients have the highest likelihood of all races of finding a match at 77 percent. That number is 46 percent for Hispanics and Latinos, and drops all the way down to 23 percent for African Americans. Your skin color should not affect your chances of survival, and that is why we need a diverse population on the registry. Learn a bit more at and get on the bone marrow registry today!

Originally published: March 5, 2020
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