ASU biomedical student helps blood cancer patients with registry
Campus ambassador’s plans align with 'directly helping people and providing resources and opportunities for people to get better'
Every three minutes, a person is diagnosed with blood cancer — like leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma — which affects a person’s blood, bone marrow and lymphatic system.
When Taylor Brown, a junior at Arizona State University, was growing up, she watched her grandfather fight cancer. She listened to her mother share stories of working at a cancer hospital. But it wasn’t until she began her degree in biomedical sciences in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that she felt called to help.
Learning about the disease in her BIO 302: Cancer — Mother of all Diseases course in the School of Life Sciences lit a spark within her. Now she serves as a campus ambassador for the Gift of Life Marrow Registry, a nonprofit organization with a worldwide blood cell and bone marrow donor registry.
The registry is dedicated to helping every person fight blood cancer and give them a second chance at life.
“I love the organization and everything they stand for,” Brown said. “I feel I’m making a difference and helping people, which is awesome.”
As an ambassador, Brown helps plan events at ASU for the organization. This includes setting up a table on campus, where she invites passing students to learn more about blood cancers and offers them a chance to get tested to see if they are eligible to be donors.
“It’s pretty straightforward. The kits contain three swabs and include a QR code with a link to a survey that asks a few simple health-related questions that might interfere with your ability to donate,” she said. “After that, it’s three swabs on the inside of your cheek, and then done.”
Then the kit is sent to the lab for testing to look for a potential match that could help a patient.
Blood cancers or diseases can affect anyone. In 2023, it is estimated that 104,170 patients will be diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma, according to the American Cancer Society.
That’s why Gift of Life is working on adding all eligible individuals to the registry and increasing the chances for every patient to receive a blood stem cell or bone marrow transplant.
Because these type of diseases attack a person’s blood cells, a stem cell match allows patients to receive a blood transfusion to replace the diseased cells with healthy ones. In some cases, a bone marrow transplant is needed.
There are over 433,000 donors on the registry, and the organization has helped facilitate over 45,000 transplants.
“Getting a match is awesome. I had a friend find out she was a match because she got tested at one of the events,” Brown said. “To see her asking questions about what to do next and feeling inspired to learn more about donating was an exciting feeling.”
Educating others about blood cancers and diseases while encouraging them to get involved by becoming a donor or volunteering aligns with what Brown hopes to do in her career.
“In this case, I feel I’m getting a glance into what I might be able to do in the future, like directly helping people and providing resources and opportunities for people to get better,” she said.
Brown’s eyes are set on medical school after graduation. She knows it will take a lot of patience and dedication, but she feels prepared by her undergraduate experience.
The Arizona native was drawn to ASU because it allowed her to immediately get involved as a student.
Brown is also a Barrett, The Honors College student, which she said has been essential to her growth during her college journey.
“Barrett has been a great program for me,” she said. “All the connections I’ve been able to make along with the opportunities it has provided me to get my foot in the door at internships, it’s been invaluable.”
Through these connections, she’s interned at the Mayo Clinic and East Valley Primary Care, working with physicians as a medical assistant. The college also provided pre-health advising, information on medical school applications and study resources.
“You have a lot to prepare for with medical school,” she said. “You must build your portfolio, get internships, attend informational meetings and prepare for the MCAT. It’s helpful that (Barrett) has the resources available because it gets intense.”
Even after Brown’s work with Gift of Life ends, one fact is certain: She will never stop helping others and teaching them the importance of community involvement.
“People come up to me and ask me how they can get involved with the organization, which is amazing,” Brown said. “I share my experience with them and hopefully it inspires them to join as an ambassador or get involved in another organization that is important to them.”