Cheekswab 2016: Rebirth in New York City

Speaking about
Speaking about Cheekswab at Hope Midtown

Reflecting back on 2012

When I started Cheekswab in 2012 I had no idea what to expect. I chronicled that process wholly on this blog — from literally the first day I started realistically thinking about the idea in May 2011 to my recap 2012 retrospective in January 2013, which chronicled 18 months of organizing, coordinating, speaking, blogging and actively pursuing Cheekswab outside of my job. 2012 was an amazing year in a lot of ways. Not only did we register way more in person donors at drives than I ever expected (463) but the website became a valuable resource for those across the world looking for more information. More than 10,000 independent visitors visited in 2012.

While I never planned to stop being active with Cheekswab, after 2012 I decided to focus on things in my personal life, including my career. remained on the internet and I actively responded to some emails and drive publicity requests but outside of an occasional blog post I no longer coordinated drives or speaking engagements. While my time was spent on other things (changing jobs, moving cities, getting married) bone marrow donation remained close to my heart. I knew once I was ready I would once again revisit Cheekswab.

Cheekswab in 2016: NYC

Now settled NYC residents, my wife Eunice and I have talked for years about finding a way to explore restarting Cheekswab in New York City. One of my main New Year’s resolutions for 2015 was to develop a mental model of how to do exactly that. By October the pieces began moving and I started once again reaching out to national organizations and revamping the website. The past several months have been a blur of coding, fact-checking, and making connections, but I’m happy to announce the official relaunch of Cheekswab in New York.

I have to give shout outs to several people who have been more than instrumental in getting Cheekswab off the ground:

  • Ron Jacob, Medical Director of SAMAR (South Asian Marrow Association of Recruiters). Ron’s organization serves as an official liaison for Be The Match. The impact of SAMAR’s work, not only in the greater New York area but nationwide, on the registration of South Asian donors is an incredible vision to aspire to for Cheekswab. Ron has answered every question, provided me with drive materials, and been an incredible friend throughout this entire process;
  • Drew Hyun and our entire community at Hope Midtown, who has encouraged us every step of the way and was willing to use their space and resources to host our first official bone marrow drive of 2016 on Sunday, March 6 2016 at Turtle Bay Music School (244 E 52nd St, New York, NY 10022) from 11am-2pm;

    EDIT [3/1/2016]: Due to a last minute venue emergency this bone marrow drive date has been postponed, likely until the following Sunday on 3/13.  We’ll keep you updated!

  • Steven Chi, a friend and talented graphic artist who has used his talents to help me with graphics for the website;
  • And finally my wife Eunice, who is my confidence when mine fails and reminds me how much Cheekswab means to me even when I forget.

We are super excited to see where Cheekswab can go in a place like New York, a city that manifests so much energy, diversity and potential. If there’s a student group, workplace or organization that you’re a part of and would like to schedule a bone marrow drive, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

A lack of minority donors is still a problem that we can solve in our lifetimes. Join the lottery to save a life today.

Dan Na,
February 2016

The First Year of Cheekswab

Pre-Launch Whiteboard
Pre-launch to-do list for

Admission: when I launched this website almost exactly a year ago, I was so nervous.

I had worked so many hours on this site. I’d spent Friday nights and Saturday afternoons at Starbucks, writing and re-writing the content of every page, sometimes walking to my car with effectively a paragraph of text after 4 hours of work. I knew the road was long but not insurmountable. I knew that God gave me the abilities to finish the content and technical details to push the site live. Much like my time in the hospital, my time creating Cheekswab was slow, and taken a day at a time. And in faith that one day those steps would not be in vain.

I remember putting the link to cheekswab on Facebook. That’s when the nerves were strongest. Would anyone care? Would anyone help, would anyone join? Were the hours and effort I put into this site all in vain? I had so many doubts. But I wrote the status and pasted the link. I took a deep breath and clicked “share.”

The support from friends and family was overwhelming.

The link was re-shared over and over (and over) again. Visitors begin to hit the site from around the world. I received emails and messages from people to lend their encouragement and support for the cause. And even greater than that, people joined the registry.

It was such an amazing day to be alive.

New Registrants Completing Forms
Signing up for the registry

I made a promise on my hospital bed. But it wasn’t just to myself; it was also to my nurses, my doctors, my family, my friends, everyone else I saw who was touched by this disease, and to God.

It was the acceptance of the burden of knowing the reality of cancer. It was the promise that because I now knew what it was like, I would never forget it. I would never turn a blind eye or a callous disregard to those who stood in my shoes. If I could do something about it, in my limited capacity as a non-medical professional, I would.

Speaking at a drive in February

I did a lot of things this year through Cheekswab that I never expected to do. I spoke publicly to more people than I ever expected for anywhere from 5-45 minutes at a time. I manned booths at conventions and shows. I put my face and my story out there for the scrutiny of others. I invested time and money into something I really believed in. I coordinated drive supplies, volunteers, and venues.

I became invested in the lives of people whom I’d never met from across the Internet. I watched people I care for pass away, and their friends and family members cope with the loss. I watched people I care for survive, with a newly appreciated love and vigor for life. I met people who donated marrow graciously to people they didn’t know, solely because “it was the right thing to do.” I met other fighters for the cause and heard their own inspirational stories, whether it was their own medical history, the death of a loved one or conviction placed within them by a friend.

Volunteers who help make drives possible

18 months ago Cheekswab was nothing but a dream. An idea I’d mention randomly to close friends and family, just to see if they’d give me a good reason not to follow through. It was one of those “wouldn’t it be nice” ideas, more idealistic fantasy than concrete plan. I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t feel qualified, I didn’t think I had the necessary skills or personality.

Even after a year things are still very much a work in progress. But luckily since day one I haven’t walked this path alone. There’s been an incredible system of support, including BeTheMatch regional coordinator Juliette Williams, other contacts from Be The Match, and a tireless group of friends and supporters who are willing to help me staff drives/complete kits.

What a year it’s been; 463 new donors and over 10,000 independent visitors to in 2012. Here’s to new and even more exciting times in 2013, and even more saved lives.

Cheekswab has been a dream come true for me, and to everyone who has been involved in any way, shape or form, I thank you.

47 New Donors at KCPC SNL!

Swabbers at KCPC SNL

Thank you KCPC SNL for the opportunity to share my personal story and host a bone marrow drive at your service. The reception to the drive was awesome, and 47 new donors right before the new year was a great way to round out an exciting year.

Please remember to share the cause with your friends, family, schools, student organizations, coworkers, etc.! With education and awareness I firmly believe that an absence of minority bone marrow donors is a problem that can be eliminated within our lifetimes. Thank you for your willingness to save lives!

This brings the official total of in-person bone marrow registrations for Cheekswab to 463 for the year!

A Recap of April

So the updates to this site became significantly more sparse during the month of April. That was a result of a few factors:

  • I didn’t host any drives in April, so there weren’t many drive announcements or recaps to highlight.
  • I spent a couple weeks developing the Donation Stories section, which Dennis was so gracious in lending his story to. True story: Dennis was at the hospital a couple weeks ago to donate white blood cells (does his generosity ever stop?) and he was randomly fist-bumped in the hall by a girl who had seen his bone marrow donation video! She was there herself to donate marrow, and said the video really helped her out. 🙂
  • I was pretty burnt out from the end of last month, where I helped coordinate four drives in two weeks (including three in the last week). At times I’m still trying to find a balance between work, Cheekswab, and being 26.

But here we are in May, and it’s been four and a half months since launch, and things are still going strong. While I can’t promise a constant stream of updates into the future, Continue reading “A Recap of April”

Promoting the cause

So I just put the first public promotion of cheekswab on Facebook, and the response from friends has been overwhelming. To all of those who have re-shared, linked, re-tweeted and redirected others to this site, I thank you. Spreading awareness about the issue is the first step in changing lives.

There are those people out there, especially in the social media landscape, that are fantastic at self-promotion. Youtube channels, Facebook pages, twitter replies, etc. Unfortunately, given my personality type, I am decidedly not one of those people. But I do see the value in social media, and I think there’s a delicate balance between using social media in an unobtrusive yet informative/engaging manner and the world of twitter-bots and Farmville updates. It’ll be a work in progress, but I look forward to figuring out how to use social media in the most effective manner possible. Please let me know if cheekswab ever gets to the point where it begins to disrupt that balance.

For those of you coming to this site for the first time, I encourage you to do something along the lines of the following:

  • Read the site content. I’m not interested in fooling anybody into joining anything. The commitment required to be a donor is too serious to be accepted under false pretenses. As a prospective donor you have the right to be objectively and honestly informed, and anything to the contrary will ultimately serve to undercut the need for more donors rather than substantiate it.
  • Order a swab kit online. If you’re not local to VA/DC/MD and don’t know of an upcoming drive in your area, the fastest way to join the registry is to order a swab kit directly from the National Marrow Donor Program.
  • Consider a financial donation to the NMDP. It costs $100 to register a single person into the bone marrow registry. If you have the means, please consider making a financial donation to help offset some of these costs.
  • Host a drive. For VA/MD/DC residents, please consider hosting a drive. I would love to help schedule one with you. I welcome minorities of all ethnicities, but I’d especially welcome the opportunity to engage with any non-East Asian communities. To be honest, I don’t have many ties to other minority groups and would love to develop some.
  • Spread the word. Please share this site address in whatever capacity makes you comfortable. Awareness is the first step to real, effectual change.

Thanks again for visiting. Please use the contact page to get in touch with me for any reason.