It’s easier than you think to know if you could be a hero.
A cotton swab swiped in your mouth is all it takes to be entered into the Be The Match Registry, which connects people in need of bone marrow transplants with viable donors.
Big-hearted people in the La Grange area will have a chance to enter the registry Aug. 18 during a drive to support Tammy Aguilar, a member of the La Grange-Brookfield Seventh-Day Adventist Church who is battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The drive is coming at a critical time in Aguilar’s treatment.
Aguilar, 33, was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 after discovering a lump above her collarbone.
“Lymphoma is usually very easy to cure,” she said. “People get the first type of chemo, and that’s it. Mine was resistant from the very beginning.”
As she underwent several rounds of intensive chemotherapy, Aguilar had to leave her job as a third-grade teacher in Cicero to focus on her health.
After a stem cell transplant in 2012 using her own cells, she went into partial remission before the cancer returned.
Aguilar is now in the midst of a clinical trial at the University of Chicago. If all goes well—and things are looking promising—she will need another transplant this fall, this time from a donor.
“It’s very important (that people join the registry) because patients like Tammy are in need and aren’t always able to find a match in their family,” said Lauren Johnson, the Be The Match representative coordinating this drive. “The more people in the registry, the better the chance of helping patients like her.”
Patients are more likely to find a match with someone of the same ethnic background, so it’s important that a diverse group of people sign up for the registry, Johnson said.
Aguilar is half Mexican and half Portuguese—ethnic groups that are underrepresented within the registry.
But anyone who is interested in joining Be The Match is encouraged to come to the drive because there’s still a chance their DNA could align with Aguilar’s. And even if it doesn’t, Johnson said, they could end up saving someone else’s life.
There were 319 people in Illinois who needed a stem cell transplant last year, she said. Nationwide, there are about 12,000 patients seeking the treatment.
“The stakes are pretty high,” Johnson said. “For a patient to be to the stage of needing a bone marrow transplant, it’s really their last option. When we say this is a cure, you could help save someone life—this is a real statement. This could be something that’s life saving for patients.”
Despite the challenges she’s faced, Aguilar stays hopeful with the help of her husband of nine years, David, and the congregation at her church.
“I’ve definitely had days where I’ve wondered why and even gotten discouraged and depressed,” she said. “Honestly, the thing that has helped me the most is my relationship with God.”
She looks forward to the day that she can return to work and, eventually, start a family, most likely through adoption.
“I enjoy working, I love being a teacher,” Aguilar said. “And ever since I’ve had to stop, I struggle with life stopping. I know it’s happening for a reason, and I’m learning a few things about myself through this—and I would love for (my illness) to be over.”
Help Aguilar win her battle against cancer by joining the registry:
The drive will take place from 2-7 p.m. Aug. 18 at La Grange-Brookfield Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 105 N. Madison Ave. in La Grange. Prospective donors must be between the ages of 18 and 44 and in good health.
If you’re not able to sign up for the registry but still want to help, you can also donate money or volunteer to help with future Be The Match donor drives. Contact Lauren Johnson at Ljohnso4@nmdp.org or 312-833-9699.