[Above: An image of marrow donation registry advocate Janet Liang, a gif demonstrating how easy it is to donate stem cells, an image of Janet holding the stem cells from her donor, the logo of the 170 in 7 blog campaign, and an image of two year old leukemia patient Jeremy Kong, who still needs a lifesaving donor match.]
Probably one of the hardest article’s I’ve ever written for Racebending.com—and my apologies for being off topic!
Janet learned that she had cancer while undergoing a series of routine physicals at UCLA during her senior year. The physical exams were to help her prepare to study abroad in Paris. Instead, Janet found herself enduring brutal chemotherapy regimens while she spearheaded an international search to increase the stem cell and marrow donor registry. Told that the odds of finding a match for a Chinese American patient were 1 in 20,000, Janet and her friends set the goal of registering over 20,000 new potential donors to the Be the Match registry. After over three hundred drives, they surpassed the 20,000 registrant goal. Due to these amazing efforts, Janet and an astounding additional 18 patients were able to find their lifesaving matches.
By this point, you’ve realized that unlike the other articles on Racebending.com, this article is not about how people of color are underrepresented in entertainment media. This article is about my friend and fellow UCLA alumna Janet Liang,one of the bravest and most inspirational women that I have ever known. While we have been advocating for increased representation in film, television, comics, and other entertainment mediums, Janet and other patients in need of a stem cell or marrow transplant have been advocating for increased representation in national and international registries. Her efforts touched thousands of people and even brought greater attention to this issue to the White House.
This article is a reminder that Asian Americans and other people of color as a whole are terribly underrepresented–not only in entertainment media, but also in other vital areas of American society–in this case, a life-saving registry that enables people from all around the country the opportunity to save a life.
All it takes to join the registry is a simple cheek swab. It’s so simple, you can even do it from home and pop it in the mail. The odds of being selected and donating are about 1 in 540. The donation process is often so similar to donating blood platelets, that people have participated in Ask Me Anything sessions on Reddit.com while sitting in the hospital room, waiting for their cells to finish downloading into a lifesaving bag for a patient in need.
Most (but not all) donors share the same race and ethnicity as the transplant recipient. Because people of color are underrepresented in national registries, this means that if you are a patient who is white, and you have leukemia–or any of the other medical conditions that necessitate a stem cell or marrow transplant–your odds of finding a donor match are 93%. In contrast, black patients have a 66% chance of finding a match, Latinos have a 72% chance, Asian Americans have a 73% chance, and American Indians have a 82% chance. These are huge disparities. According to the Mavin Foundation, approximately only 25% of those listed in the donor registry of the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) are racial “minorities”, and people of mixed race represent only 2% of that.