Time is not on Candice Brisbane’s side. Diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia while in elementary school 12 years ago, the mother of two relapsed in October 2010 after being cancer-free for almost a decade.
This form of cancer leads to damage and death by crowding out normal cells in the bone marrow and infiltrating other organs.
To prolong her life, Brisbane needs a stem cell donor urgently.
Last Sunday, Brisbane’s family teamed up with One Match Stem Cell & Marrow Network (OMSCMN) which is responsible for finding and matching volunteer donors to patients who require stem cell transplants. Less than 30 per cent of patients who need transplants find a compatible donor in their family circle.
“Patients are most likely to find their matching donor with someone of similar ethnic background,” said OMSCMN donor management co-ordinator, Hailu Mulatu. “In addition, stem cells from young male donors between the ages of 17 and 35 are optimal for patients like Candice because they can have better post-transplant results and fewer chances of complications.”
Brisbane’s mother is optimistic that a match will be found for her daughter.
“We have been satisfied by the response so far, but I am urging more people to come forward and register to help patients in need, including my daughter,” said Susan Brisbane, who migrated from Trinidad & Tobago 43 years ago and is a member of Forest Brook Community Church in Ajax, where last Sunday’s blood donor clinic was held.”
She said her daughter was diagnosed after leading a healthy life for her first 13 years.
“Candice complained of feeling very tired and sleepy, she started to develop red spots on her body and suffer from nose bleeding,” said Susan, who also has a 21-year-old son. “After several years of treatment that involved numerous blood transfusions, she suffered a relapse less than three years ago. She goes several times a week for blood and platelet transfusions. That’s what is keeping her alive.”
At the time of the relapse, Brisbane was pursuing Seneca College’s law clerk program after graduating from St. Mary Catholic Secondary School.
“It’s been pretty tough on the family in the last few years,” said Susan. “I have had to take time off from work to care for her. But it’s even more challenging for Candice since she’s unable to lead a normal life and she now spends most of her time in bed or in hospital.”
Though weak, she made a brief appearance last Sunday to thank donors and supporters that included former men’s national team basketball player, William Njoku, who the Indiana Pacers selected 41st in the 1994 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft and Toronto Argonauts cornerback/kick returner, Matt Black.
Njoku has personal reasons for raising blood donor awareness. He lost a brother to sickle cell disease in 1994 and his 42-year-old sister is suffering from the disease.
“The more people we get onto the donor base in Canada and the more people that are added to the international donor base, the better chance we all have that someone we love is going to be helped by stem cell donation,” said Njoku.
Black said he became a supporter after a recent conversation with close friend, Ryan Hinds, who is a defensive back with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
“When he broached the subject, I remember that I did a project about sickle cell back in high school,” said the Northern Secondary School graduate. “Knowing that young men are most likely to help patients like Candice was enough for me to get involved.”
Brisbane is one of 35 Black patients waiting for a stem cell match from an unrelated donor. Of the nearly 340,000 Canadians currently registered with the network, 75 per cent are White. Black people make up 0.7 per cent of all donors.
On Saturday June 1, the Canadian Blood Services will hold a donor clinic at 1300 Harmony Rd. N. in Oshawa from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Additional clinics will also take place at the Jane & Finch Mall on June 22 from noon to 3 p.m. and on June 23 at Rhema Christian Ministries of Canada, 40 Carl Hall Rd. from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.