Monday, September 24, 2012

Good to the Bone: The National Marrow Donor Program might not get as much attention as some other cancer-fighting causes, but it’s just as laudable

Cancer has become one of the most popular causes around, receiving millions of dollars in donations,  and promotional products and celebrity endorsements by the truckload. The Susan G. Komen campaign and Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong organization lead the pack, but there are a number of other foundations quickly catching up to these powerhouse fundraisers. With so many organizations to choose from, how does one know which to support?
Consider the excellent—and relatively unknown—Be The Match Registry, where individuals can register their bone marrow for use in research and life-saving transplants. Minnesota and the National Marrow Donor Program recently celebrated a huge milestone: Miah Winterfeldt of Shakopee, a 19-year-old college student, was the 50,000th marrow donor from the registry.
Why does this matter? All of the research and materials generated by this program benefit people suffering from blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, which are particularly virulent cancer strains. And even though more than nine million people are currently registered with the NMDP as potential marrow donors, only one in every 540 registrants actually makes a donation. That means that of the nearly one million people estimated by the American Cancer Society to currently have some form of blood cancer, only about 16,600 will have the chance for a life-saving transplant.
Because blood cancers most often affect minorities, donors who identify as Hispanic, African American and Pacific Islander are especially needed. Age is also an important factor, and donors aged 18 to 44 are considered ideal.
Registering for a marrow match is about as painless as it gets: Go to to get a cheek swab kit from the NMDP mailed to you, swipe the inside of your cheek once and mail the kit back. Once you are on the organization’s list, you’ll remain on it until the age of 61, which is the cut-off point for consideration. Actually giving the marrow is also far less invasive than one might think. Donations come in the form of marrow removal from the pelvic bone by a hollow needle or from a simple blood draw—no surgeries or invasive procedures involved.
If the idea of losing bodily fluids doesn’t appeal to you, financial donations are also accepted. Because the NMDP gives out the donor kits free of charge and each new donor registration costs about $100, the organization needs help funding the process.
So, along with the pink lipsticks and rubber wristbands, take a look at another organization that is integral to saving people’s lives from cancer, one donor at a time.