I saw a post from Wil Wheaton on Facebook, about a wonderful idea someone had to put a bone marrow registry kit inside a package of bandages, making it easy and simple for people to send in a sample for testing – they’re already bleeding!
I’ve considered joining the registry before, but never got around to it. The main thing that held me back, I’m ashamed to say, is that it wasn’t free. Sure, I would like to help out, but to go to the trouble of sending in some swabs or blood and have to pay for it, so that ten years from now they can call me and suck bone marrow out when they need it? No wonder so few people are registered bone marrow donors.
When Wil posted the link, I was curious to see who was going to pay for all that expensive genetic testing, so I followed a tree of links back to DKMS and their Delete Blood Cancer page. They run a bone marrow donor center and registry with over 3 million registered donors worldwide. They are the ones behind the bandage kits, and they also offer a much-less-bloody option of mouth swabs for testing. Also, these great folks will send you a registration kit for free.
I like free.
I gave the website my information and I received my donor kit in the mail within a week. The process was remarkably easy. The package contained a set of sterile swabs and a special envelope to seal them in, a donor card, a letter of thanks, and a return envelope. A postage-paid return envelope. Getting yourself on the bone marrow registry won’t even cost you a stamp.
I rinsed my mouth out with water, swabbed the inside of my cheeks for ten seconds, let the swabs air-dry in my hand for a minute, and then sealed them up in the envelope before putting it into the return envelope. It took me longer to write this paragraph than it took me to do the work.
Now, honestly, I’m not sure how helpful I will be to the bone marrow registry. I’m Caucasian, from a long line of Caucasians with mostly Western European ancestry. Most registered donors are of a similar background. But people of every mix of ancestry get leukemia, and that’s the problem. You see, as much as everyone is equal, no matter where they come from, certain sets of genes vary quite a bit among different populations. A Pacific Islander will have a different pattern of genes than a Hispanic person, which means that donors and recipients usually need to have similar ancestry in order to have their genes match up well. The hardest patients to find donors for are ones with two parents from different populations. A child who is half-Chinese and half-German will have a very hard time finding someone whose bone marrow can save his life.
But it doesn’t matter what you are. I’m doing this because I’ve seen too many of my friends and family fighting cancer and genetic diseases, and if there’s a chance I can help anyone else fight their disease, I’m going to do it. Follow my link and head to the site so you can read up on bone marrow donation. Or try other sites like cheekswab.org or Be The Match. If you decide to get swabbed, that is fantastic and makes me very happy. If you would prefer not to take the chance of having to donate bone marrow sometime in the future, that’s okay too – I’m not trying to guilt anyone into doing something they don’t want to. But if you’re not going to do it, please spread the word to someone who might. Share this post, or go to Facebook to “like” the pages I’ve linked to. Even better, you can make a donation to any of these organizations through their websites. If you don’t want to get tested, your donation can still help them pay for someone else’s registration kit and testing.
Thanks for listening.
June 5, 2013 Update: Corrected inactive link and added links to two new donor registry sites.