Earlier this year, at age 32, Caryn Hsu received a diagnosis that changed her life overnight. After noticing bumps on her neck, Hsu went in for bloodwork. And just 24 hours later she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a rare form of cancer affecting the bone marrow and blood.
Hsu and her husband, Anthony, learned that a bone marrow transplant could help significantly — but they've been having trouble finding a matching donor. Like most patients, Caryn doesn't have a match in her family. So she'll have to rely on those who donate voluntarily to the national bone marrow registry.
But non-white people have a harder time finding a match. White patients have up to an 80% chance of finding a matching donor, while Black patients only have a 30% chance, according to statistics from Be The Match. Those who are Latino, Asian or Pacific Islander have just under a 50% chance of finding a match. More than half of all bone marrow donors in the registry are white, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.
That's why Caryn's family is encouraging people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to register as potential donors. All you need to do to register is provide a cheek swab and fill out a form with your contact info. If you're chosen as a donor, you'll be contacted to get bloodwork. A few months later, the actual donation process, which takes a few hours, can begin.
The exact procedure depends on whether you're donating bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells, according to the HRSA. The stem cell collection procedure is much more common, and is similar to the process you go through when donating blood, Dr. Sergio Giralt, who led the adult bone marrow transplant service at Memorial Sloan Kettering, told TODAY.
Caryn's sister Christina has been putting together Swab for Caryn bone marrow drives across the country. And she's shown people just how easy it is to donate.
"I cry every day," Christina said. "I’m so grateful that there are people that are willing to help, people that I’ve never met in my life before."
Whether or not you're a match for Caryn, you could end up being a match for someone else. "You could literally save somebody’s life," Christina said. "You could potentially take all the sadness away from a whole family and all their friends."