Student volunteers have been canvassing Brigham Square for the past week, trying to get students to swab their cheeks for saliva samples and help combat blood cancer.
Blood cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths and kills more people under 20 than any disease in the US according to the nonprofit Delete Blood Cancer. When chemotherapy isn’t succeeding, a bone marrow transplant can be someone’s last chance for survival.
Volunteers for Camp Kesem BYU usually help run a retreat for children of cancer victims, but this event was aimed more at actively helping people combat cancer by building up the registry of potential donors. Chris and Ellen Williams met through the organization and both helped run the week’s booth.
Kanani Fisher from Nevada is a psychology major who registered at the drive.
“I actually really wanted to do it because i have a friend, his mother [has] leukemia right now and she needed a bone marrow transplant,” she said.
A large registry of potential donors is vital, because there’s only about a 1 in 22 thousand chance that two people will match. BYU’s volunteers have a goal to beat the record set when another university registered 2400 potential donors and get 2500 signed up during their drive which ran from 11 November to 15 November in Brigham Square, and also at week’s football game.
Some volunteers stand out front of their booth in Brigham Square and try to persuade students to come register. The process only takes about 5 minutes–students just read a list of donor requirements, fill out a paper, and do a quick swab. The saliva from their inner cheeks will be enough to determine their genetic compatibility with blood cancer victims.
Mark Wahl from Ohio is a biochemistry student, volunteered at the event.
“I would go up and talk to people and ask them if they had a couple minutes to help us save someone’s life from cancer,” Wahl said. “I would go over some of the eligibility requirements to them, and explain some of the science behind what’s going on. And a lot of people were really responsive.”
Potential donors stay in the registry until they turn 61 so it’s hard to say when someone will be called on to donate. In fact, it’s is hard to predict how likely it is a particular person will get matched at all because ancestry plays a large part in compatibility. That’s one reason why Delete Blood Cancer tries to get as diverse a registry as possible.
A common concern that people have is that it would be very painful if they ever had to actually donate bone marrow, but a actual bone marrow process is usually similar to donating plasma, though sometimes it requires a 1-2 hour outpatient surgery.