During the afternoon of Wednesday, Mar. 1, anyone walking through the Joseph Family Spa would have been met with a considerable crowd of people. Throughout the afternoon, the main foyer of the Spa was consistently clogged, and it wasn’t because of the food. Instead, it was the several foldable tables advertising cheek swabs to fight blood cancer.
The tables were manned by students and non-students alike, all of whom were enthusiastic about the service, labeled “Be the Match.” A simple stroll from one set of doors to the other would be met with convincing calls to participate in the swabbing. “Do you have three minutes?” was the frequent message, and it seemed to be an effective one. At any moment, there was always a kit being given and dozens of people surrounding the tables.
The process itself was remarkably simple. The first step was to scan a QR code that was placed on the table. Next, participants were required to take a short survey regarding their background and basic medical information. Demographic questions and questions about medical history allowed for a more precise analysis of the participant’s DNA. Finally, a small kit was given with two paper swabs, each one to be placed on the inside of the cheek for ten seconds. The swabs were stored for later lab use.
This simple process provides people with a quick and easy way to give back to the greater community. The “Be the Match” program operates on a national scale, trying to get as many people as possible to be added to the bone marrow and stem cell donation registry.
These operations require considerable time, effort, and money. A bone marrow donation can take up to 30 hours spread over six weeks. For the final five days before a donation, a patient will receive injections of Filgrastim, a medication that enhances blood cell levels.
It is important to appreciate the patience and selflessness of the people involved in the donation process, both the donors and the doctors. While a simple cheek swab in the Spa may seem like the smallest of actions, it can make a huge impact on someone’s life.
According to the American Cancer Society, close to 60,000 people are projected to contract leukemia in 2023 with nearly 24,000 of them being fatal cases. The five-year death rate for all blood cancers is 30%. Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells, and the type of leukemia is dependent on the type of blood cell that mutates. Those with the disease produce an excess of mutated blood cells, disrupting the body’s ability to fight infection. The most frequent strain is acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), which is the most common variation among children.
In 2019, 129 people died of leukemia in the state of Maine, which made it the seventh-deadliest cancer reported in the state.
The increasing diversity on campus can help “Be the Match” increase the genetic diversity in their registry as well. Last year, a student from the College who was placed on the bone marrow registry was contacted as a match for a child with leukemia, and her donation helped save that child’s life. With all that the community of Maine has given to the College since its founding, this is a small way for students of the College to start giving back.
~ Wyatt Tune `26