A young mum with leukaemia is urging more people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds to join the stem cell donor register after discovering her leukaemia has returned.
Twenty-three year old May Brown from Weymouth, who was a volunteer at the London 2012 Olympics, was told by doctors last week that her leukaemia has returned after seven months in remission. May, mother to two-year-old Selina, now faces a search for a matching stem cell donor before she can have a potentially lifesaving transplant.
However, due to a shortage of black donors, Nigerian-born May knows the odds are against her, and she is appealing for more donors of African descent to register as doors.
‘I feel like there isn’t much awareness of blood donation, organ donation and stem cell donation, especially among the black community,’ said May. ‘Before I came to the UK I had never heard of it. I want more people to know they can help.’
May volunteered as a first aider during the London 2012 Olympics and described it as ‘lots of fun’, following it up with a role as a Sports Maker in Dorset, where she helped educate participants about safety in land and water sports.
May was preparing to start a law and criminology course at Liverpool University when she was diagnosed with leukaemia last year. After months of chemotherapy, May welcomed the news that she was in remission – but now the leukaemia has returned more aggressively than before.
May is now participating in a clinical trial that doctors hope will lead to remission again, allowing May to have a transplant. However, a donor is needed as urgently as possible to give May the best chance of a cure.
‘There has to be someone out there who could be a match for me,’ said May. ‘I am appealing to you to come forward and register as a stem cell donor, and give me a second chance at life so I can be alive to take care of my little girl, who is only two years old.
‘The process of registering is painless and only takes few minutes of your time.’
While donors don’t need to be of an identical ethnic background to be a match, it’s highly likely that people will find their match from someone with a similar ethnic background to themselves. Currently the pool of donors from ethnic minority backgrounds is small: while 90% of white northern Europeans will find the best possible match, this drops dramatically to around 20% for people from black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds.
Ann O’Leary, Head of Register Development at blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan, said: ‘Despite the challenging circumstances she faces, May is determined to raise awareness of the Anthony Nolan register and the need for more donors from ethnic minority backgrounds. Donating stem cells is a straightforward process - 90% of people now donate via their bloodstream – yet it could give the gift of life to people like May. Diversifying the stem cell register is crucial to giving people with blood cancer and blood disorders a second chance at life.’
Beverley De-Gale, co-founder of the African-Caribbean Leukaemia Trust, which raises awareness of stem cell donation among ethnic minorities, said: ‘May has a fighting chance to beat the leukaemia, however, to achieve this she needs help from the West African community in the UK and around the world. May needs them to step forward and join the stem cell register, as an unrelated matching donor will most likely come from someone with the same ethnic background.’