Chinese-Canadians respond to stem-cell call

The number of Chinese-Canadians registered as potential stem cell donors has risen 75 per cent after simultaneous one-day events in Vancouver and Toronto this past weekend.

“We made history. It was the largest one-day stem cell drive event we’ve ever had,” said Sue Smith, executive director of the Canadian Blood Services’ OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network.

The drive, held Saturday at Richmond’s Aberdeen Centre, and in Toronto, saw a total of 4,025 people lined up to get the inside of their cheeks swabbed so cells containing DNA could be collected, typed and entered into a national registry.

Stem cell transplants are used to treat — and even cure — those suffering from blood cancers and other disorders involving benign or malignant conditions.

Chinese-Canadians make up only two per cent of the Canadian registry of unrelated stem cell donors while Caucasians make up 82 per cent. That means that it could be almost impossible to find a donor when a Chinese patient needs one since the best chance of finding a match is within a patient’s own ethnic group. First nations, South Asian and Southeast Asians are also poorly represented in the national and international registries.

Smith credited media coverage and volunteers in community groups for the success of the one-day campaign, which boosted the registry of Chinese donors by 75 per cent. In Vancouver, 1,900 individuals were registered during the event and in Toronto, 2,100 people were added. Said Madellina Lau, co-chair of the Vancouver event and mother of a woman who died last year from leukemia (before a stem cell transplant): “It is so heartwarming to see how much our fellow Chinese-Canadians care for Chinese patients searching for stem cell donors.”

Smith said the Vancouver turnout far exceeded expectations. And now the blood service hopes other ethnic community groups will match the success of Chinese organizations. “We’re working on partnerships with other community groups like South Asians for Life, the Health Association of African Canadians, Aboriginal Nurses of Canada, Filipino and many other ethnocultures,” she said.

Dr. Clay Smith, director of the Leukemia/ Bone Marrow Transplant program of British Columbia and chair of the Tumour Group Council of the BC Cancer Agency, said all the efforts are critically important to patients.

“Frankly, there is a need for representation for all ethnic groups other than those who are descended from European background where donor representation is now pretty good.” There are more than 14 million registered adult volunteer donors in [about] 69 donor registries around the world.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun


Merry X’mas & Healthy New Year from Mama

Nov 3 2008 is Canada’s National Stem Cell and Marrow Awareness Week

Of the 237,000 Canadians currently registered on the OneMatch Network, 83% are Caucasian and 17% are from Canada’s many diverse ethnic groups.

At any given time, OneMatch is searching for stem cell matches for about 600 Canadians. 40% of which are non-Caucasian.

Fewer than 30% of patients will find a compatible donor from a family member. The remaining 70% rely on the generosity of an unrelated donor.

Most patients are more likely to find a donor in their own ethnic group.

Upon receipt of your registration online (at or by mail (of completed forms downloaded from, a representative from OneMatch will be in touch by phone within 2 business days.

Samples are no longer collected through blood tests but with a buccal (cheek) swab kit mailed directly to your home with clear instructions and a return envelope.

Donor eligibility is between 17 to 50 years old


A little story I shared with my teammates the day before last year’s marathon

This was my speech at the Leukemia Society’s Team in Training’s team dinner (Sept 29, 2007) the night before the Toronto Scotiabank Marathon where I walked 21K in 3 hours and raised $15,000.

On May 2, 2007, I went for a walk after dinner and at the Starbuck’s at the end of my street, I came across these Team in Training brochures (hold brochure up) on the counter while I was waiting for my coffee. I picked one up, and when I realized that it’s the Leukemia Society, I immediately thought that this was meant to be, that I have to check this out. Then I opened up the brochure, and when I saw the picture of this girl in the middle with a bandana around her head, and her name tag says ‘Carolyn’….Now, I JUST KNOW I am supposed to do this! I have to do this even if it meant crawling half the way………..and by the way, at that point I had NO IDEA just how far 21km is!

One thing I haven’t told you yet, is that I had a bandana around my head too that night at Starbuck’s. That I couldn’t just watch TV and go to bed after dinner because earlier on that day my oncologist had just taken out my Hickman Line. And for those of you who are not familiar with what a Hickman Line is – is was a tube that goes under your skin from here (pull collar down to show scar). One end of the tube went into my main artery, and the other end hung from my chest and that’s where the hospital drew blood and gave me the chemotherapy drugs. I know it sounds gross, but it sure beats getting needles up my arm twice a day.

So, the day I learned about Team in Training and the walk tomorrow, was actually the day my 5 months of chemotherapy was officially over. It was the day my oncologist told me that I am in full remission since finding out at the end of Nov last year, after just an annual check up, that I had Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

Everything happened so fast. I had my blood test on a Monday. By Wednesday, my family doctor called to tell me that they are making an appointment for me at NYGH and that in meantime if I felt nauseous or sick or feel I have a fever that I should go to the nearest emergency room right away. I was told this over phone by my doctor’s assistant while I was driving back to the office after a meeting, and my reaction at the time was “Why!??”

The next morning, I was at NYGH for another blood test and a bone marrow aspiration. Believe it or not, I still didn’t have a clue what this all meant, and I remember saying to my girlfriend, who took the afternoon off to be at NYGH with me, “I can handle anything, just don’t let it be cancer”.

The next day the haematologist at NYGH called to tell me over the phone that I have AML and that my file has been sent down to Princess Margaret and they will be in touch with me shortly.

Truth is, I didn’t really know during the phone call what it even meant to have acute leukemia. I know, it sounds stupid now, but it didn’t even register with me that Princess Margaret is a cancer hospital. That the doctor had just told me that I HAVE CANCER. I mean, this all happened within 3 days!

It wasn’t until I went to the almighty internet after the phone call that I started to freak out. After reading all the horrible things about leukemia, I was afraid to fall asleep that night because I didn’t know how “acute” my leukemia was…..I was afraid I would just die in my sleep that night.

Looking back, I don’t know what was worse that weekend – finding out that I have acute leukemia or having to tell my brother and mom over the phone from halfway around the world that I have leukemia, because they both live in Asia. Within a few days, my family was home, and on Dec 4th, I was admitted to Princess Margaret and spent 5 weeks at the hospital for my first round of chemotherapy.

I’m not going to go into detail about my treatments, because in the grand scheme of things, all the side effects I went through were just temporary and a really small price to pay in exchange for the rest of my life.

When I first signed up 4 months ago, I did it because I thought some cosmic power brought me to Team in Training that night at Starbuck’s. 4 months later today, I can honestly tell you that this has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life. For one, I have NEVER been an athletic person before. I mean my friends used to say ‘yeah right!’ if I told them I didn’t drive somewhere….yeah, I was that bad! In fact, I am willing to bet that half of them probably have a bet going somewhere that I wouldn’t follow through with the training this past Summer because getting up to go for a walk at 8am on a Saturday morning was just inconceivable before I got sick! You may think I’m nuts, but being able to finish the 21km tomorrow is going to be a bigger achievement to me than puking through the 5 months of chemotherapy! Ha

This was the first time I have ever fundraised. From the effort I put into it, to the response I got in return and then watching how powerful it can be when a bunch of people come together towards a common goal – not just from my family and friends, but also from seeing how all of you committed and dedicated your time and energy towards helping the Leukemia Society – I feel really proud to be a part of you. And I’m extremely grateful to my family and friends, because they have collectively contributed a little over $15,000!!! Although NEXT YEAR would be the real test of their love of me!! Ha

As a leukemia survivor, not only do I hope that someday there will be a cure for leukemia, so that others like me will have the certainty that our illness will never relapse and we could live to tell what a piece of cake chemotherapy was! But more personally, I hope that one day, no parent would never have to watch their child go through what I went through like my Mom did, or have to spend even a minute of their life wondering if their child is going to die before them, and for all that my Mom went through, I just want to say Thank You and I Love You, Mom.

Click here to register online today at to become a stem cell donor

B.C. Metro News – July 14, 2008

Stem cell drive draws 260 possible donors

Kristen Thompson, Metro Vancouver
14 July 2008
Carolyn Tam is 260 steps closer to finding a much-needed stem cell match after a drive was held in Richmond yesterday screening possible candidates for a bone marrow transplant that would save her life.The stem cell drive, which provided on-site testing to see if volunteers were compatible with Carolyn, was held at Canadian Martyrs Catholic Church.

It was the third drive put on by Vancouver friends and family of the Toronto woman, who has been battling leukemia for two years and desperately needs a bone marrow transplant, ideally from a Chinese donor.
There are only about 500,000 Chinese Canadians who are currently registered as donors.

Susana Junk, a childhood friend who helped organize the drive, said even if those 260 people aren’t a match for her friend, they will be in the blood donor registry and could be compatible with another person in need of a donor.

“This is not just for Carolyn, it’s for everybody,” she said. “The major thing we want people to do is register with Canadian Blood Services.”

 Click here to register online today at to become a stem cell donor