Starting ninth grade in a new town is difficult. Arriving to your new school wearing a face mask is isolating. Malena Brown, 15, moved to Keller, Texas from Cleveland, Ohio in June with her mom, little brother and sister, and cancer.
The Browns split their family between the two cities last February when Gary, Malena’s father, accepted an offensive coaching job with the Dallas Cowboys. Her mom Kim said she felt like a single mother during those four months as she and the children stayed in Cleveland to finish the school year. But, parenting proved to become more difficult than any couple could imagine in May when Malena was diagnosed with a form of childhood leukemia known as chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).
“Hearing my daughter had cancer was the toughest moment of my life,” said Kim.
Malena found a glimmer of joy when she discovered her treatment would be a pill called dasatinib (SPRYCEL®) as it does not include the common chemotherapy side effect of hair loss.
The Browns transferred Malena’s care to Children’s Medical Center. Soon after, Malena’s blood counts plummeted. Her body was reacting to the medication, and her immune system became compromised. Even the simplest cold could cause Malena’s health serious jeopardy. To protect her from infection, Malena had to wear a face mask when she was in public, including Keller High School.
Because of Malena’s reaction to her initial therapy, her new pediatric oncologist, Dr. Tamra Slone of the Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s told the family that Malena might need a bone marrow transplant.
Until targeted therapy was available in 2001, the only treatment for CML was a bone marrow transplant. Most patients bypassed transplant by taking imatinib mesylate (GLEEVEC®) or more recently, dasatinib. Malena’s body’s reaction showed that neither medication was an option for her. A stem cell transplant is the only option to replace the abnormal cells in her body with healthy blood-forming cells to cure her leukemia. But she needs a perfect match.
Malena’s life-saving search is on.
The Children’s stem cell transplant team tested her brother Tre, 8, and sister Dorianna, 10, as siblings have a 1-in-4 chance of being a perfect match. Though Tre and Dori matched each other, neither was a match for Malena. She would need to search the national Be The Match Registry®.
The tissue types used for matching patients with donors are inherited, so patients are more likely to find a match within their own racial or ethnic heritage. This proves to be a difficult match for Malena as her mother is Caucasian and her father is African-American. Though more than 10 million volunteer donors are listed on the registry, only four percent of potential donors on the registry are multi-racial.
Malena’s immune system continues to strengthen as she waits for the perfect match to join the Registry. Children’s Medical Center Dallas is looking for Malena’s match.
How You Can Help
Adding more donors from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to the Be The Match donor registry increases the likelihood that all patients will find the match they need. So, if you are age 18 to 44 and are from one of the following communities, consider joining the Registry to help young people, like Malena, fight back against Childhood Cancer:
You could save a life by going to childrens.com/bethematch. Children’s is covering the cost of the donor kit through the month of February when you use the promo code “childrens.”
Download a printable flyer for the Be The Match program here!
Cristy has worked in the Gill Center at Children’s for 13 years as outreach manager. She advocates for cancer and blood disorder patients through events like the annual Be the Match marrow drive. Cristy has been on the Registry since 1995 and has couriered bone marrow to 35 patients across the country and to some in Europe.
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