Why would you read another heart-breaking article about a fatal disease? First of, my post does not intend to be heart-breaking, just a bit emotionally triggered. I just want to give you some insides or food for thought from a concerned person’s point of view. My own brother was diagnosed with Leukaemia in 2001 and this is why this matter is important to me. Please note that I am in no way medically trained, so the information that I am going to give you is my own understanding of facts. But I suppose it is easier to understand than some medical gibberish! I am writing this post in the aftermath of World Blood Cancer Day on 28. May. The German Bone Marrow Donor Center (DKMS – English and German information) has proclaimed the day for the first time this year. So the day really exists, it is not one of your Facebook status updates saying ‘It’s world depression day, repost this if you know someone who has experienced depression!’ And you think ‘Oh, wasn’t there depression day last week on somebody else’s profile?’ or ‘World Red Sock Day, repost this if you have ever worn red socks!’ (Well, I have, and I used to love my red socks, may they rest in pieces!). So, World Blood Cancer Day is a day of action that wants to raise awareness for the disease and for how little it takes to help.
Nearly 1.000.000 people in the world get diagnosed with different types of Blood Cancer every year and many times, their only chance to get cured is a bone marrow donation. This is not to be confused with spinal marrow, it has nothing to do with it! Nobody will operate on your spinal marrow (a lot of people confuse this)! Your bone marrow basically produces your immune system and hence the blood cells, which are affected when a person suffers from Blood Cancer. I always imagine the cells to be the body’s very own Security Guards. When they are not working anymore, you’re in big trouble!
When someone is diagnosed with Blood Cancer (or any kind of fatal disease), this comes in as a big shock. When my brother was diagnosed over a decade ago, the doctors told us very insistently that he was going to die if the treatment did not start immediately! While we were still dealing with the shock (basically after a day or so), they told us about the possibility (and basically the only chance to get cured) of a bone marrow transplantation. The highest chance to find a possible donor is amongst siblings. Yay, I thought, that’s me! All I had to do was to give a blood sample but, bummer, from my entire family, my bone marrow matched his the least (we also found out through the tests that my father is really our father, just in case you wonder – I just did not match). So that was when the world-wide search for a donor began. There are different organisations that connect their databases so that it is possible to find registered people all over the world. And here lies the problem: the chance to find a 100% matching donor is very low. That with the fact that most people are not registered makes it looking for a needle in a haystack! Luckily, a donor for my brother was found in France. For my medically uneducated brain this is unbelievable. I mean, imagine: there is a person in France whose tissue type is closer to my brother’s than my own! How is that possible? But it is. Still, the likelihood to find someone in your own area is the highest, especially in less populated areas where the degrees of kinship are still higher. This is also the reason why the German Bone Marrow Donor Center is always encouraging fellow Turkish citizens to get registered – a lot of Turkish people live in Germany and it is harder to find matching donors for them amongst the Germans.
So how does your registration work? Very easily, actually. If you are between 18 and 55 years old and do not suffer from any chronic diseases, you can order a registration kit online. All you have to do is take a swab from inside your mouth and send it back. If one day the database identifies you as a potential donor, you will get written notification. You then have to fill out a health questionnaire and give a blood sample. By the way, you can always withdraw at all stages of the procedure! Nobody can and will force you to pull through with the donation! If the blood sample shows that you are indeed a possible donator, there are two options:
- Peripheral blood stem cell donation: For five days, you will be given some sort of medication that increases the number of stem cells in your bone marrow and makes them go into your bloodstream. Stem cells are basically the super-hero cells in your body that produce all the other blood cells. For the final donation, you will go to the hospital where the stem cells will be filtered from your blood through some sort of blood purification (this is the wrong term, but I cannot come up with a better one). The procedure is said to be very unproblematic for the donor (believe me, it is much more uncomfortable for the recipient!), and you might only experience some flu-like side-effects.
- Bone marrow donation: Again – nobody will operate on your spine!!! They will extract bone marrow from your pelvic bone with a puncture needle. And you will be under anesthesia! The only risk here is the usual risk of general anesthesia.
And don’t worry – your body fully replaces the stem cells in a very short time! The method of your donation will be decided with your doctors, depending on your health conditions.
So – emotional part now – you can save a life but just some cells from your body! Many patients die or never fully recover because they do not have a donor! Please get registered! Even if you are not in Germany, you can find information at the German Bone Marrow Donor Center at www.dkms.de – They also have an English version of the page. Or ask your local GP or the Red Cross!
And just in case you wonder – no, my brother did not make it. BUT, his bone marrow was completely cancer-free when he died – unfortunately, in his case the cancer cells found other ways. But the donation of the brave person in France gave him and us another 7 years with him! So now go, spread the word and become a superhero lifesaver!
In loving memory of Erik (1980 – 2007)!