Rallying around a faculty member hoping to prevent a relapse of cancer, more than 250 people sign up to become bone marrow and stem cell donors

It’s not often one thinks of swabbing the inside of one’s own cheek as a noble gesture, but that was the case Sept. 30 at the George Fox University student union.

The simple and mundane task took on an elevated meaning that day because it was the first step of an act that had the potential to save a life.

More than 250 people cycled through the Cap and Gown Room that day as part of a Be the Match bone marrow and stem cell donor registration drive not only for that reason, but because circling those pieces of cotton in their mouths might save the life of someone at George Fox, someone who was sitting in that SETH GORDON - Taking steps to save lives - More than 250 people cycled through the Cap and Gown Room at George Fox University Sept. 30 to be part of a Be the Match bone marrow and stem cell donor registration drive. They collected DNA material via cotton swabs in an attempt to determine if there was a possible donor of stem cells and bone marrow for two people stricken with cancer in the GFU community.

That person is assistant director of international student services Diana McIntyre, who has been seeking a stem cell transplant since June in hopes of preventing a second relapse of lymphoma, a disease she was originally diagnosed with in 2008 and had been in remission from until January.

After completing chemotherapy for the second time and finding herself in remission again by the summer, a transplant would reduce McIntyre’s chances of relapse from about 90 percent down to 50, so she was heartened by the eagerness shown by those at the university who signed up, many of whom might not have known it was her as she helped screen them during the registration drive.

“Maybe it’s typical of all college students, but the students I know here at George Fox, they like to stand for a cause and to be able to contribute and be a part of something,” McIntyre said of the eager attitudes that abounded. “They came out and put their money where their mouth is. And they have to commit not only to a stem cell but a bone marrow transplant if they’re a match for someone. That’s a big commitment if they’re willing to do it, so that’s cool to see.”

Director of alumni and parent relations Vangie Pattison and director of Institutional Research and Analysis Sarah King worked together to host the event, in part because when they bounced the idea around over the summer, there was a second member of the community battling lymphoma who might be in need of a bone marrow transplant.

As it turns out, senior Hayley Bellows, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy while taking a 12-credit class load after being diagnosed in April 2012, does not need a transplant and has learned her sister is a match in case she does.

Bellows, who has been rallying support from practically the entire school with her campaign selling “Eff Cancer” t-shirts since she learned that she had relapsed in April, helped spread the word about the registration drive and was on hand selling her now-campus-standard apparel.

“The hope is that we find a match for Diana, but if there is a match for anyone anywhere, that’s still a successful thing,” Bellows said. “It was really cool to be a part of that. I have a friend whose sister was saved by a bone marrow transplant, so just being in that community of people who are trying to save a life, that’s awesome to see.”

Magda Silva of Be the Match, an international registry with more than 10 million members, said she was impressed with the efficacy and efficiency of the George Fox event, which recruited nursing students in need of clinical hours as volunteers.

“It was my best event all year,” Silva said. “That was the very last day of my fiscal year, and it had the numbers it needed; 250 is phenomenal.”

Silva was so impressed that she hopes to establish a Be the Match on Campus group at GFU to run future drives, while Pattison and King had similar thoughts about perhaps making the drive an annual effort moving forward.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society also reached out to Pattison and King and had a representative on hand for the event.

Since then, Pattison has partnered with Bon Apetit, the school’s food service provider, to host a spaghetti fundraiser, benefitting the cancer group’s Light the Night program, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Oct. 14 in the Cap and Gown Room. Cost is $10 for a menu that will include two kinds of pasta, four sauces, vegetables, salad, garlic toast, ice cream, cookies and beverages. The next local Light the Night event itself will be held Oct. 19 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

According to Silva, it will take one to two months for samples collected at the drive to be processed and potentially identify a match for McIntyre, but added that every six months or so drive organizers will also receive updates on how many potential matches, matches and donors the George Fox event produced.

“The community here has been really supportive just with their prayers and different ways of supporting me throughout the whole process,” McIntyre said. “It’s been fantastic.”

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