It was serendipity that led me to meet Moneet Mann, 24, and chronicle her journey.
The tiny stubs of hair on Moneet’s scalp when I met her reminded me of resilient crocuses that push through the earth at the end of winter and are considered harbingers of spring.
So, it came, as no surprise the steely determination in Moneet’s sparkling eyes as she talked about the cancer in her body would find a way to slay the dragon that had somehow intruded on her life and dreams.
Last Thanksgiving, after being handed a cancer diagnosis, a stunned and shocked Moneet underwent treatment at the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) in Toronto for acute myeloid leukemia, but doctors told her she would need a bone marrow transplant. Unlike blood donors, typically, bone marrow matches, are only found within the same ancestry.
Here’s the thing: even though there are currently some 22 million donors registered worldwide, South Asians make up for a small percentage. Take a good look at the depressing statistics: East Indians constitute a little over 3 per cent of registered donors and are at the bottom alongside blacks (1 per cent), aboriginals (1 per cent) and Hispanics (0.2 per cent).See chart here
So when faced against these odds, Moneet knew she had to take charge. Between cancer treatments and praying for a divine intervention, Moneet kept busy with her awareness campaign Will You Marrow me?
(The catchy title was the brainchild of Moneet’s cousin who one day called her excitedly and said he had the perfect name for her initiative. The rest, as they say, is history)
So far, Will You Marrow Me? has been educating desis on the importance of registering as marrow and stem cells donors. To that end, family and friends have collaborated with local temples and gurudwaras in the GTA to host swabbing clinics there so that the dismal number of donors on the Canadian Blood Services’ OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network can see a surge in numbers.
Most people, if asked will tell you with absolute clarity, the precise moment their life changed. Moneet incidentally has two. The first? When she was told she had cancer and the other one happened recently.
Moneet recently learned a bone marrow match had been found. This is akin to winning a windfall because less than 25 per cent of patients who need stem cell transplants find a match in their family, most have to depend on an unrelated donor. Here’s how Moneet describes the ‘moment.’
“When I recently met the doctor, he began by saying, ‘one week ago we found…’ my heart dropped,” Moneet recalled. “I was so afraid he was going to say they found leukemia cells. Thank god, that was not the case and so he (doctor) continued, ‘we found your match.’ I was so ecstatic; I jumped off the hospital bed. The dark cloud had been lifted.”
As I write this, I can only imagine the potency of hope that resides in the Mann household now.
Their hard work with Will You Marrow Me? has garnered results. In December, the number of South Asians on the registry was 3.1 per cent, in March it has edged to 3.6 per cent.
“I am not saying it is because of Will You Marrow Me? but I am proud of my community members for taking a stand and registering,” Moneet said. “We need to build a pool of South Asian donors so that patients like myself have better chances of finding their donor.”
The Facebook page of Will You Marrow Me? currently has some 5,390 likes and thousands of shares.
“The fact that thousands of people were listening to my story and wanted to help, gave me the strength I needed to carry on,” Moneet told Toronto Desi Diaries. “I will continue to help others especially those in need of a stem cell and marrow transplant because I know how devastating the news of cancer can be and how difficult it actually is to find a match from within your own ethnicity/heritage.”
When Moneet was told she had leukemia last October, she was in the final year of a BA/B.Ed program at Lakehead University. Just a few days earlier, she and few of her friends, had taken part in the Dirty Girls Mud Run in Thunder Bay, Ont. in support of the Canadian Cancer Society. Little did she know, in a strange quirk of fate, she was in fact inadvertently supporting, not just the hundreds of others stricken by cancer, but herself.
On Saturday, May 24, Moneet will be at the Carassauga Festival at Hershey Centre (community rinks # 3) at 5500 Rose Cherry Place in Mississauga from 1-6 p.m. for a swab clinic.
Please drop by because cancer strikes without a warning and in a blink of an eye, the life you take for granted, can change—irreversibly.
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