This weekend I will travel from Arkansas to New York for the New York City Marathon, the biggest marathon in the world. I'm excited to participate but even more excited to be running for an important cause.
My name is Colin Hall and with the help of my friends at DKMS I'm running this year to raise money to help put an end to blood cancer.
I was first introduced to DKMS in the worst way - in 2011 my friend Leslie was diagnosed with AML, or acute myeloid leukemia. It came as a shock to all of us, and especially to Leslie, who was pregnant at the time. Desperate to find a donor, we set up swabbing drives all over Arkansas. Every three minutes someone in the US is diagnosed with a form of blood cancer and every ten minutes someone dies from it. Often times it is because of lack of donors. We did not want that to happen to her.
Thankfully Leslie's treatment led her AML into remission. But along the way I met some truly wonderful fighters and survivors of all ages, going through their own battles with blood cancer. It's the second leading killer of children in the United States. Seeing how many people were affected by blood cancer, and how many needed a life-saving donor, gave me all the motivation I needed to continue to help any way I could.
Since 2011 we've swabbed over 8000 people in Arkansas alone, and have helped set up 27 life saving transplants. That's a big number but it's still just a fraction of what's needed to find matches for patients on the donor lists nationwide. In order to increase the odds of survival with blood cancers we need to expand the donor pool as much as possible. Swab drives are the easiest way to discover possible matches. Through a simple cheek swab sent off for testing, you can remain on the donor list up to the age of 62. That means you're not just saving someone now; you could be saving someone in the future.
Learn more about how to take a cheek swab.
While all of this support is needed, it still costs money. That's why I am fundraising with my run in this year's marathon for DKMS. The money I am raising will go to the purchase of more swab kits that can be distributed nationally.
I've been asked why I use running as my fundraising method. Since I took up the sport in 2011 I've found the running community to be incredibly supportive and giving. They encourage each other. They push each other. They understand how important endurance can be in running, just like when you are struggling with an illness. Surrounding yourself with positivity and encouragement is crucial in these situations.
This won't be the first time I've raised money for blood cancer via running - we have hosted several 5Ks in Arkansas - but this will be the biggest platform I've had to raise that awareness. Sure, I want to finish the race within my target time. But that's not the only reason I'm running. I will be running for the families in need. I'll be running so more people understand how to help. I will be running so that no one has to wait on the donor list.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the amazing support I've received from Cancer Friends, the support group that was created at my local church. They taught me how to encourage, support, and be strong for those going through the struggle with cancer.
If you are able to donate, that is amazing. Your donation goes towards giving a future to people like Leslie who are given life-changing news. It goes towards kids like Teecumpsy Wiggins and Anastacia Santa Cruz, and people like Adriana Vidals who needed and received donors. It goes toward the most important cause there can be - saving a life.
If you can't donate, but you want to help, the best thing you can do is spread awareness and help others' story be heard. Blog, post on social media, reach out to radio, TV, newspapers. Be relentless. Volunteer at a local swab drive and learn more about the blood cancer charities like DKMS who are leading the charge to eradicate these diseases.
Shortly after the New York City Marathon I will turn 44. I feel blessed to have made it this far when others have not had that opportunity. I think of those parents who have had children who lived through blood cancer, and the survivors themselves. I will continue to live my life in honor and in memory of them. I will continue to help those who need it and to spread their stories, their messages. This is my calling, and I'm both honored and humbled to have the chance to represent them all on one of the world's biggest stages.
If you have the chance to help, I hope you will too.
Click here to learn how you can set up a swab meet in your city.