Did you know that a simple cheek swab can help cure blood cancer like leukemia or blood disorders such as sickle cell disease? Cheek Week, now in its fourth year, kicks off today in support of African American Bone Marrow Awareness Month. With events planned in Atlanta and Houston, Cheek Week is once again calling for the participation and inclusion of donors from different ethnic backgrounds through the Be The Match Registry.
During the month of July, Be The Match works to raise awareness of the health disparity on the national blood stem cell registry impacting Black and African American patients in need of life-saving cell therapies. Patients in need of a transplant are most likely to find a matching donor in someone who shares their heritage or ethnicity. However, for Black or African American patients the odds of finding a match is only 29% compared to a 79% chance for white patients.
“This month provides a wonderful opportunity to remind people of the power we have to literally cure someone of cancer,” said Erica Jensen, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Be The Match. “Every patient deserves an equal chance of finding a matching donor on the Be The Match Registry. However, many people don’t know that ethnicity is a factor in finding a matching donor, and more Black donors are needed to help save Black patients.”
Justice Brooks, a 20-year-old from Atlanta with sickle cell disease, has been working with Be The Match to advocate for more diversity on the registry. He has been searching for a matching donor so he can have a marrow transplant, the only cure for sickle cell disease. Justice was diagnosed with sickle cell disease a few months after he was born, and over the years has spent his life in and out of the hospital dealing with pain crisis. As Justice describes it, every year that goes by the more hospital admissions he has. While he is waiting, he is on a drug that is minimizing the amount of pain crisis he experiences.
“We are making progress in our efforts to diversify the registry,” Justice said. “When I first began searching for a donor, I only had a single potential match. I experienced serious illness during preparation for transplant that required I postpone this treatment option. I recently searched the registry again to determine if a match was available and we discovered there are now seven potential matches, which means more Black and African donors are signing up, and this gives me so much hope.”
Individuals between the ages of 18-40 years old can attend a Cheek Week swabbing event or register online at https://my.bethematch.org/cheekweek23 and a swab kit will be mailed to the registrant’s home to complete the registration process. Registry members are only called for further testing if they are identified as a match for a patient.
Cheek Week Events (Open to the Public):
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – Scottish Rite Hospital at 1001 Johnson Ferry Road NE, Atlanta on July 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., July 12 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., and July 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – Egleston Hospital at 1405 Clifton Road NE, Atlanta on July 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., July 12 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., and July 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cheek Week Drive-Thru Celebration – Antioch AME Church at 4730 Elam Road, Stone Mountain, Ga. on July 15 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The process to donate is not as difficult as people imagine, and 90 percent of the time blood stem cells are donated through a nonsurgical procedure that resembles a plasma donation. To learn more about the myths and facts of blood stem cell donation visit https://bethematchblk.org/faq/.