Responses Two and Three

A quick update —

Response 2 was from A3M (Asians for Miracle Matches), an organization based out of California. Here’s a snippet of that email (the questions I asked are italicized):

2. I’ve heard a rumor that due to the extreme need for Asian donors, the fees associated with registration are waived. I was told from a different source that this was only true when a drive is held for a specific person. What are the typical costs of bone marrow registration, and are these fees waived for Asian registrants?

Typing cost for a donor is about $100 and NMDP covers the cost of all minority donors. If you are a Korean donor, it is free. If you are a quarter Native Indian, if it free. If you are half Hispanic and half Caucasian, it is free. If you are Jewish, not free. African American, it is free. But we have a limited funding for a Caucasian donor as well.

3. Are there any specific resources or contacts that your organization may have that would be particularly beneficial for me to consult before I begin the processes of establishing drives?

There are other donor centers and recruitment groups but we are the only group has Korean speaking staff including me. The Korean speaking donors we register will be contacted by us in Korean when they become a match. This obviously will increase the chance to work with them to get further tested and eventually donate to a patient.

A3M sounds like it will be a great resource, especially when it comes to probably the biggest deficiency I see in my plan right now: my lack of Korean-speaking ability. The answer to #2 was very promising.

Response 3 was a phone call from the National Marrow Donor Program (Be the Match), which is the nationwide organization that basically every other satellite organization affiliates itself with. The coordinator I spoke with (Juliette) was extremely knowledgable/helpful, and was able to answer all of the questions I had very thoroughly. She’s laid out an initial “plan of attack” for me (which is standard for all prospective volunteers), which sounds really great. I get “trained” to run my own drive over the phone via a supplemental training kit they mail to my home. Then, I coordinate with Juliette (one of the east coast drive coordinators) to go witness a few local drives in action myself, just to get a feel for how they’re run. I’m then part of their network of volunteers as a “lead volunteer / ambassador,” at which point I may be asked to assist in various bone marrow drives throughout the area.

Basically, the NMDP trains me and gives me all of the necessary knowledge/supplies to coordinate my own bone marrow registration drives. I couldn’t ask for a better hookup than that.

One of my first questions for Juliette was question #2 I asked in the email snippet above. Unfortunately it turns out the response from A3M is only partially correct. While the NMDP does cover the cost for minority donors, it has a limited amount of funding allocated on a yearly basis to accommodate these registrations, and by May 16, 2011 that fund has already been depleted. While they don’t turn away prospective donors due to a lack of funds, they do set up donations tables at their drives and ask people to possibly cover whatever portion of their registration cost that they can. They also attempt to partner with local businesses or individuals to raise money for drives, since donations to the organization are tax deductible.

I’ll admit that this news is a bit disappointing, but I’m not surprised by it. I was hoping to be able to keep the money issue out of this for a variety of reasons, but looks like that may be impossible now. But that’s okay. Money is a concern now, but it’s by no means insurmountable.

First Response

A snippet from an email from one of the co-founders of Swab A Cheek:

Thank you so much for your email.  And you won’t believe how amazing your timing is.  I was literally speaking to some folks on Friday, who are trying to focus on increasing the number of bone marrow donors for Korean patients.  There is a 13 year old boy named Nico, whose mom is Korean and dad is European mix, and he could not find a match so is having a cord blood transplant.  But we are still searching for him, since he may need a second transplant one day.

We are local in DC.  We are the only registry operated by actual transplant recipients.  So, i like to think that means we care on a different level.  We would LOVE to have you partner with us.  We could help you run the drives – we can teach you to run drives, do swabber training over the phone, and we can supply you with swab kits, and help you find volunteers to run the drives.  If you would like to partner with us, you would be able to track your “matches” over time, and could see which ones found matches, etc.

That changed the complexion of my day completely.

Gave the world a small push, and it pushed back.


Step One: Send Emails, Obtain Information

Note: These process posts will likely be short and blurb-y — more of a means for me to chronicle what I’ve done and need to do than express anything extensive. Someday they could serve as a valuable resource for other people who may be interested in pursuing causes of their own. That’d be cool.

Previous web searches I’ve done have shown that there are a ton of resources available on the web for obtaining information regarding bone marrow donation, including the extremely awesome is the website of “Be the Match,” which is the National Bone Marrow Registry. What interests me specifically is their “Grow the Registry” page, where people/organizations can request information kits to host bone marrow drives of their own.

Other sites include (which despite the resemblance in name, I swear I did not steal),, and the Asian American Donor Program at

I want to be able to develop contacts at these types of organizations in the hope of answering questions specific to:

  • Data and statistics about bone marrow as a need — incidence, ethnic breakdowns, etc.;
  • The logistics of bone marrow donation, as the host of a drive;
  • The process of bone marrow donation, as a donor;
  • The process of bone marrow donation, as a recipient;
  • The risks associated with bone marrow donation;
  • The costs associated with bone marrow donation for people of Asian descent;
  • Insights or advice;
  • Prospective contacts;
  • Other ideas as they arise.

My ultimate goal is to fully develop, which currently lies in the same dormant state it’s been in since I bought it several years ago. An issue I’ve found with a lot of sites that explain an issue as complex as bone marrow donation is that their presentation of information can be a bit unclear. I want to make a site that allows prospective donors, donors, recipients and others to know exactly what they’re getting into. No sugar-coating, no under-emphasis of the nature of the actual bone marrow donation procedures, no glazing over of statistics and data to express a specific perspective. Being a nerd by nature, I love the impartiality and revealing nature of data. I’m confident that the data will stand on its own and that the need for donors will speak for itself. My goal is not to deceive or manipulate anyone into becoming a donor. I want people to develop their own conviction that becoming a donor is right for them.

Fortunately I currently work as a web developer, so I can handle the technical development of the site on my own. Unfortunately I have the aesthetic instincts of a gorilla, so I may need to consult the talents of some friends or pay for a design. But I think that’s a worthwhile expense. Regardless, the key to the site will be content, content, content.

This post was significantly longer than I expected it to be, but I think that’s to be expected with these initial posts as I still continue to hash out this idea. I’ll be posting under various “tags” — “Mission” will explain the motives/philosophy behind cheekswab, whereas “Process” will chronicle the steps I’m taking to get to where I’m going. Future tags will be explained as they appear.

Anyway, the goal for today: send those emails.

The Starting Line

Today is the first day in what I hope to be the start of something that I’ve thought about since December 2006. At this point I don’t know what will become of this idea; this dream I’ve held in my mind but for one reason or another haven’t had the time/resources to begin until now. My hope and prayer for the creation of this blog is that it will finally help to keep me accountable to following through with something that I think could really make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. This is bigger than me, my sickness and my experiences. This is bigger than the fact that one random Korean college kid was diagnosed with leukemia in December of 2006. This is a coalescence of not just the terror and helplessness of cancer and illness, but a lifetime of relationships, instruction, experiences, and convictions that have molded me into the person I am today. This is me answering a calling and taking a step out in faith that we can find reasons to press on in the face of devastation, that people are by nature full of empathy and love, and that with effort and dedication we can all make a legitimate contribution in remedying some of the world’s most daunting and seemingly insurmountable problems — even cancer.

Maybe this is why I’m still alive. It freaks me out to think about it in terms as stark as those, and at a glance it sounds incredibly dramatic, but when I think about it it really doesn’t sound that crazy. Maybe this is why I live.

I don’t know what this will become. I have no illusions of grandeur; I don’t seek notoriety or fame or care to use this as a stepping stone to other things. It’s too important for all of those ideas. This is the difference between life and death, hope and despair. I’ve seen the face of my mother at the bedside of her child as he receives chemotherapy in a cancer ward, and looked into the eyes of friends as they heard my diagnosis for the first time. I cannot and will not ever forget these things, and they’re why I have to follow through with this. I have to.

I’m not worried about scalar achievements — whether people choose to register or not and whether people are selected to be donors is out of my control. I will define “success” with one metric only: did I give it my best shot? Did I conquer my hesitations, did I persevere through the setbacks, and did I legitimately do everything that was reasonably within my power to raise awareness for and provide access to bone marrow registration? If I can earnestly say “yes,” then Cheekswab will be a success in my book.

I hope to chronicle my experiences here in this blog, both good and bad. I make no claims to have any experience or knowledge in developing an idea like this, so I make no promises that things will always be pretty. But I do promise that things will always be honest. The subject matter is just too important not to be honest.

Daniel Na
May 2011