By Sophia Chang
The petite New Jersey woman, who is at the tail end of a nearly two decades-long battle against cancer, recently held a bone marrow recruitment drive at City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing)'s office at 135-27 38th Ave. in downtown Flushing in hopes of educating her fellow Asians about the need to join the National Marrow Donor Program Registry.”We're doing this because of the acute need to register more marrow donors,” Liu said during the recruitment drive Friday, during which he also presented Lee and her organization, the Cammy Lee Leukemia Foundation, with a City Council Proclamation in recognition of their community service. “The hope is one in a million will be so lucky to directly save somebody's life,” he added.While Liu may have been using a cliche, the odds are nearly that remote. The chances of a patient finding a matching bone marrow sample within his or her family is one in four, but the odds jump to one in 20,000 to one in a million for the estimated 70 percent of patients who cannot find a familial match, according to Lee. And for blood-related diseases like Hodgkin's lymphoma or leukemia, which Lee was diagnosed with at the age of 13, a patient's match will most likely come from his or her ethnic group because of genetic characteristics. Only 8 percent of the 5 million donors in the national registry are Asian, Lee said, underscoring the need to recruit more Asians.The councilman's conference room was transformed into an impromptu clinic Friday as volunteers handed out informational materials and a nurse took blood samples in front of Liu's official Council seal hanging on the wall.”I feel that if you can save somebody, it's not a big deal,” potential donor Chu Hsin Fan said in Mandarin Chinese after signing up for the registry. “It's not often you have the chance to save somebody's life,” added Fan, a Flushing resident.Liu said he himself was compelled to join the registry in 1992 when Lee's foundation first came to New York City to raise awareness in Asian neighborhoods and search for a match.”I first registered when we were driving to save Cammy's life 13 years ago,” Liu said. “It's one of those jackpots you want to win, to save somebody's life.”Lee was diagnosed with leukemia in 1986, and various forms of cancer spread in the next several years to her spinal fluid and her bone marrow. In 1991, she decided to undergo a bone marrow transplant. But after no match was found from her family, Lee's siblings started the foundation to take her search globally in hopes of finding a match.It was a potentially futile search because in 1992, Lee said, of the 12 million bone marrow donors in the registry, only 3 percent were Asian.”My marrow type was faxed to other hospitals around the world,” she said, and in six months a Canadian woman of Chinese ethnicity was found to be a match. “But even though I found my donor in six months, we felt we had to continue the foundation,” Lee said. Now working full time as the foundation's recruitment manager, she said that beyond enlisting donors, a goal is to educate the Asian community on what a bone marrow donation entails. “When we first started the foundation, because it was so new and unknown, people would think 'bone' and imagine they would slice off your bones or something,” Lee said. Lee knows she was fortunate in having an extensive support group and lucky to quickly find a match, and she hopes the foundation will spur New York's Asian community to become more aware of the necessity of bone marrow donations.”I had a lot of support, and it led me to want to help other Asian families,” she said.For more information, visit www.cllf.org.Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.