Three bone marrow drives this month
Twice the need, double the chance of successful donor
People now have twice the reason to attend one of the three bone marrow drives to be held at local schools in the coming weeks.
Mikki Conley, a science teacher at Mohr Elementary, diagnosed in December 2010 with lymphocytic stage 4 lymphoma, and 2005 Amador Valley High graduate Janet Liang are both looking for donors.
"In real words it means that my bone marrow doesn't produce any cells," Conley explained.
She said she was stunned to learn she had cancer. "I actually was sitting here (at her home) one night and had a blood clot in my chest. It was excruciating," Conley said. She was sent to ValleyCare for a CT scan, "and there it was."
"I was totally shocked when they told me I was sick," she said.
Her first trip for treatment sent her to the hospital for six days.
"I did the chemo," Conley said. "They redid all the tests and sure enough it was still there."
Conley is recovering from an abdominal wound connected to her illness, which has put any hope for a bone marrow transplant on hold until she heals.
"To my understanding, it's a three-month process," she said. "The first month is totally killing your immune system -- instead of trying to build up my cells, they totally kill it. That's a month in the hospital, then they do the transplant and that's a two-month process, when the cells hopefully start generating on their own."
Conley and Liang hope to get a match in one of the three local bone marrow drives to be held in the next few weeks.
Liang's tearful plea on Youtube, in which she says she only has until April to find a match, generated a local buzz and inspired Amador's Students Interested in Medical Science Club to hold a drive Feb. 25.
"It feels like I don't have much time, and I realize mostly why I'm afraid of dying is because I'm afraid of what I'm leaving behind," Liang said in the video. "So, please, register your bone marrow, especially if you're Chinese American."
The plea also prompted a local woman who read about Liang in the Pleasanton Weekly to organize a drive at Mohr Elementary in the hopes of finding a match for Liang.
"It just really moved me. I was struck by the plea, that this girl had only two months (to live). My heart broke for her and her family," said Christina Gray. "This is something we can all do and participate in."
Gray said she called "Be a Match," an organization set up to recruit potential bone marrow donors.
"The whole emphasis was for Janet and finding her a match and finding support in the community," Gray said, adding that she learned later about Conley, who was her son's teacher at Mohr.
Now Gray has double the reason to urge everyone to come to one of the drives.
"We are going to make every effort we can. We will emphasize that 'Be A Match' has stated that ethnicity can make a difference," she said.
"It's a cheek swab," she added. "It will take longer to do the paperwork than to do a cheek swab -- it's super convenient. You self swab, it is so simple, so simple."
"We can totally help her," she added. "There is someone in Pleasanton that is a match for Janet. They just need to show up Feb. 16."
Mohr Principal Ben Fobert said his school offers some hope for Liang.
"We have a great ability to tap into the Asian community in Pleasanton because most of our students are Asian," he said, noting that 40% of students at the school are Asian American.
The first drive will be held 9:30 a.m. to noon tomorrow at Pleasanton Middle School; the drive at Mohr will run from 2-6 p.m. Feb. 16. Amador's drive will be from noon to 4 p.m. Feb. 25.
While she hopes for a match, Conley said drives are about more than just her.
"I'm hoping that if I don't get a match, that it will help somebody down the road," she said. "Hopefully I'll be healthy and back to school in the fall."