A call for more Filipinos to join marrow donor program

Contributed by Sally Douglas Arce

To honor the death of his mother from cancer, celebrated Filipino pop star Guji Lorenzana encourages Filipinos worldwide to join the Be The Match® registry to give kababayans worldwide a second chance at life.

Every year, more than 12,000 patients are diagnosed with life-threatening blood cancers – like leukemia and lymphoma – or other diseases for which a marrow or stem cell transplant may be their best or only hope for a cure. A family member is a match only 30 percent of the time. A stranger is a match 70 percent of the time.

Before a transplant takes place, a compatible donor must be found – typically someone of the same ethnic heritage. To register, text: the word BEALRIGHT to 61474. Or, you can phone 1 (800) 593-6667.

Despite more than 20 million people on the Be The Match® registry, only 5 percent are Asian and .4 percent are Filipino. Filipino patients, like 30-year-old Martin and 32-year-old Desimond, urgently need to identify a marrow/stem cell match.

Guji Lorenzana spreads the word

Lorenzana, a Filipino actor, singer-songwriter, recording artist, and DJ, visited Chicago and San Francisco to raise awareness and encourage Filipinos to join the registry.

He wrote a song called “Be Alright.” (Available on YouTube) It started out as a love song to his mother who had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. “This song was to help encourage her and be strong,” Lorenzana says. “It was only after she passed that this song became not only something to honor her, but a song of hope and courage for everyone who was fighting too.”

“I know how urgently some patients need a marrow match,” Lorenzana says. “So, it’s imperative that Filipinos register.”

Lorenzana started the Be Alright Campaign to spread cancer awareness and prevention worldwide. Although he is still grieving the loss of his mother, Lorenzana says, “Through my work with the Be Alright Campaign and organizations like Be The Match® and Asian American Donor Program (AADP), I am healing.”

Lorenzana created a public service announcement that can be viewed on YouTube.

How to donate
April Cruz, who lives in northern California, donated marrow about 10 years ago. She is Filipina and Chinese.

“I really encourage people to register,” Cruz says. “I see it as a human deed. I donated marrow to a complete stranger – someone who really needed my help to extend their life.”

She never met the 27-year-old Filipino man she helped. He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and lived until the two-year anniversary of the transplant.

“You never know when someone in your family or a friend will need a donor,” Cruz says. “So, why not help those who need your help now?”


Martin is a 30-year-old Filipino diagnosed with mixed-phenotype acute leukemia. He lives in British Columbia. (Contributed photo)

Martin is a 30-year-old Filipino diagnosed with mixed-phenotype acute leukemia. He lives in British Columbia. In 2010, he completed a B.A. degree in history at the University of British Columbia and, in 2014, completed the coursework to become a certified public accountant, later working as an accountant for an auctioneering firm. Martin was active in sports, regularly playing ultimate Frisbee, ten-pin bowling, and volleyball.

In July 2018, just after his 30th birthday, he was told he had leukemia. Beginning treatment right away, he developed an infection, which caused further complications.

In November 2018, Martin had a relapse and was told by his doctor that his leukemia is considered terminal. The doctors recommended going to palliative care or trying a different type of chemotherapy. Martin decided to try the different type of chemo.

Presently, his doctors have not found a marrow/stem cell match for him. “I need a stranger to step forward,” Martin says.

Desimond is a 32-year-old Filipino and father of four children was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia in April 2009. He lives in northern California.

Desimond, 32, with his children (Contributed photo)

“My four kids are the ones that keep me motivated,” Desimond says. “I am just hoping the timing will be right (finding a marrow/stem cell match), because I have been close to death a couple times now.”

What’s the solution?

Multi-ethnic people are more likely to die of leukemia and other blood cancers. It is vital to have people from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds join the Be The Match® registry so everyone has an equal opportunity to survive blood cancers.

AADP is a 30-year-old nonprofit 501 (c) 3 organization, based in Alameda, California, that works to educate the community about the need for more ethnic marrow donors and the importance of joining the Be The Match® national registry. AADP is the oldest nonprofit of its kind in the country.

Help diversify the registry
“For thousands of severely ill blood cancer patients, there is a cure,” Gillespie says. “Be the one to save a life! It is simple to register – just a swab of the inside of your cheek.”

• Find a registration drive in your area.
• Text the word BEALRIGHT to 61474. Or, you can phone 1(800) 593-6667 to receive a home kit.
• You must be 18 to 44 years old and meet general health requirements.
• Encourage friends/family to register.

AADP is an official recruitment center of the Be The Match® registry.

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