I was under the assumption that being biracial was no longer a problem. I mean, the Supreme Court made my parents’ marriage – and my very quirky existence – legal in 1967 with Loving v. Virginia. People had stopped referring to me as an “oreo” by the end of middle school, and I got flack from a friend for choosing to write about interracial marriage and biracial children for my research paper in ninth grade because it “wasn’t a controversial topic anymore” (but I still got an A, so there). Plus the school district I grew up in was extremely diverse so, yeah, it was no big deal to be biracial. However, I don’t think anyone remembered to tell the National Bone Marrow Registry that.
Growing up, doctors always made sure I was aware of the health risks I faced due to a family history of heart disease and high blood pressure, among others. But no one told me that I could be at risk of a cancer relapse simply because I’m biracial. I needed a bone marrow transplant just as badly as the registry needed minority donors – which was my problem. Only a mere three percent of the National Bone Marrow Registry is comprised of minorities, so finding a match for another minority is very slim. Add that to the fact that my genetic makeup is comprised of both Caucasian and African American DNA, with the African American genes being of Caribbean descent, and you’ve got one large melting pot of variables that need to be met in order for someone to be my match. “LOL,” said the universe. My family was tested to see if they were a match, but my chances weren’t that hot. Due to genetics and what-not, my parents could only be half-matches for me (which makes sense because I’m half of my mom and half of my dad. I did at least learn that much in high school biology. Punnett squares and all that). My brother Justin could’ve also been a half-match – or no match at all – but there was only a one in four chance that he would be a perfect match. So although the transplant coordinator said it might be a long shot, they contacted our local chapter of Be The Match to try and find a donor from the registry.
God love them. Although, like predicted, there were no matches for my very unique makeup on the registry, my friends still rallied around me in support with Be The Match and planned and executed a bone marrow drive in the high school to raise awareness in our diverse school district about the need for more minority donors. From my little hospital room in Baltimore, it seemed as if all of Susquehanna Township banded together for this cause as multiple news stories were created about the drive, and many classmates – some I hadn’t even spoken to since graduation or earlier – were reaching out to me with kind words or ordering swab kits to join the registry. The bone marrow drive was a huge success! After the drive, 174 individuals had joined the registry as possible donors, of which 71 are of diverse ancestry. Which is huge. Also, the bake sale table put together by my wonderful neighbor broke the old Be The Match bake sale record by raising $1,376.25 (us Hanna kids love our snacks)! All in all the drive raised $3,443.25 for Be The Match, which, according to Aimee Haskew (the Be The Match representative), was the largest amount of money raised in a single day she’s ever seen!
Complain about Susquehanna Township all you want (guilty), but you can never say that we don’t care about each other. It was incredibly touching to see all of my friends and classmates come out to support this cause that has become an essential part of my journey with cancer, and thanks to the brilliant minds behind Apple (all hail, and RIP Steve Jobs), I was able to attend the event from the comfort (lol let’s be real) of my hospital bed.
You can’t see, but that’s me on the phone. My friends and I love selfies, but I promise it’s me.
There were a few other bone marrow drives with Be The Match that sort of spawned off of the OG one at the high school, including one at Towson University (go tigers)! This one was sponsored by Be The Match, Phi Mu, Towson’s Honors College, and put together by my roommate (hi Asya!) and my sorority big (hi Taylor!). This drive was yet another success, and Be The Match has been back to Towson quite a few times since to continue raising awareness to college students about the need for donors (cause heads up guys, 18 and up is the ideal age for donors. They want our young cells!! Well not mine anymore…but the rest of you youngin’s could help out).
To date (February 23rd, 2016), there have been THREE potential matches identified from the drives! It’s completely anonymous to the public (because of HIPA and all that jazz), and the patient isn’t even allowed to find out who their donor is until at least a year after their transplant, but it’s still a wonderful thing to know that three lives might be saved thanks to the efforts of selfless, generous individuals.
So here’s to you three, whoever you are.
And get ready, cause now we’re getting into the nitty gritty fun stuff.
(I’m sure the sarcasm is obvious here)
Interested in becoming a bone marrow donor? You can take the first step to save a life by joining the Be The Match Registry! Join online at https://join.bethematch.org/Swab4Jillian