In 2009, Janet Liang was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia while studying at the University of California – Los Angeles.
Although she was cancer free for one and a half years, she learned in December of 2011 that she had until April to find an unrelated bone marrow donor.
However, according to the National Marrow Donor Program, only 7% of registered bone marrow donors in the United States are of Asian descent.
“I am so afraid of dying,” a teary-eyed Liang said on the YouTube video she posted in January. “It feels like I don’t have much time left. And I realize that I’m afraid I’m dying because mostly I’m afraid of what I’m leaving behind.”
With over 360,000 views, the video has gained traction and immense support and within the last couple of months, she and her friends have launched a grassroots campaign called Helping Janet to encourage people, especially those of Asian descent, to register.
Local Asian-American celebrities like Wong Fu Productions, Kevjumba and Far East Movement have also caught onto the cause.
Today, the campaign has registered 14,925 people for the bone marrow registry.
“Janet is one of the most caring and sweetest people in the world,” Tami Lin, Liang’s former UCLA roommate, who is helping spearhead the campaign, said. “She’s definitely very, very happy and grateful to the response.”
According to Lin, Liang started up the campaign single-handedly.
“She stated this whole grassroots campaign back on her hospital bed,” Lin said. “Finally (a) huge response has came back. Now she can finally rest. That’s the most important thing we want her to do. We just want her to get rest.”
The movement has motivated people from across the nation to mobilize and take action.
New York University junior and president of the NYU Asian Cultural Union, Ben Dumond had lost a friend to cancer two years ago, and after hearing about Liang’s story, was compelled to host a drive on the East Coast.
“With her story in mind, I really wanted to facilitate awareness within our community about the lack of registrants we have, not only from the Asian American community in the bone marrow registry, but also from other minority groups,” Dumond, who is half Korean, said.
Dumond, who has never met Liang, partnered up with the South Asian Marrow Association of Recruiters and in his second day of fundraising had already entered 130 new registrants in the system.
His next drive will be at the 6th annual New York City Asian American Student Conference on Saturday, April 21 at the NYU campus.
According to Dumond, registering to be in the bone marrow system is a two-step process. Step one, you fill out a application with your medical history and step two requires a oral swab. Registrants’ DNA are put into the system and they are contacted if they are a match to someone in need.
“It’s completely based on consent and you (have the) option of declining,” Dumond added.
Both Dumond and Lin have been in contact, brainstorming ways to increase registration and raise awareness.
“I think right now the key is to continue to have more people put on drives on their own,” Lin said. “But we have a lot of hope.”
Unfortunately the statistics are grim. Compared to Caucasians, who have an 80% chance of finding a match from the existing National Marrow Donor Program, ethnic minorities only have a 30-40% chance, according to the Asian-American Donor Program.
And whereas over 70% of Caucasian donors will proceed with donating if called as a possible match, approximately 50% of all ethnic minorities contacted will not push through with donating.
But as her friends and family work around the clock on raising awareness around the nation, Liang remains optimistic.
“I’m very touched with what everyone is doing out there for me and other patients,” she said. “It gives us hope. I’m always bragging to my doctors and nurses about the progress we are making. I’m always beaming with pride.”
A list of upcoming drives can be found on the campaign’s Facebook page.
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