The Haldimand Press
CANFIELD—Word of mouth, flyers, posters, wristbands, ribbons, social media, emails: there are countless ways to raise awareness and countless things you can raise awareness for. When it comes to finding a stem cell donor match, raising awareness could be lifesaving.
A stem cell transplant is what Shannon McPherson-Adams needs to treat her rare form of cancer, called Acute Plasma Cell Leukemia Multiple Myeloma. As previously reported, Shannon is a registered nurse at Norfolk General Hospital (NGH), lives in Canfield, and is a mother of two girls. She was diagnosed in December 2020.
A match has not yet been found, but her friends, family, colleagues, and community are doing all they can to promote awareness and to encourage people to register as a stem cell donor online.
As of Monday, March 29, Canadian Blood Services had distributed 617 donor testing kits through the Match4Shannon campaign.
“Shannon’s campaign has been going very well! Last week our campaign brought in the highest percentage of registrations across the country at 30% of the national average,” said Brad, Shannon’s husband.
Brad added, “That’s only the ones that went to the specific link that would count numbers for Shannon. We know of registrations that have taken place in Florida, Texas, the UK that would not be counted. It’s hard to estimate, but the number could easily be double that.”
The Match4Shannon campaign was started to encourage stem cell donor registrants through Canadian Blood Services. As part of this campaign, Brad’s aunts and mother, with help from Kathy Marshall, coordinator of the Caledonia BIA, have hung orange ribbons along the light poles on the main streets in Caledonia. Orange represents leukemia.
“The ribbons have been very impactful. They provided a great opportunity to get people talking about the importance of Canada’s stem cell registry and specifically, thinking about how they can help Shannon,” said Marshall, who has also posted to social media and put a notice on the LED sign at the entrance to Caledonia to help spread the word.
COVID-19 has limited options for events to support the campaign, such as in-person testing drives at public locations. Brad said this is apparent across the country, as registrations are down 70% in Canada since the onset of the pandemic.
However, Brad added they’ve “become inventive” to fill in the gap. Brad, Shannon’s work friends, and her sister started a Facebook group called Shannon’s Plasma Cell Mates; their very first post reached over 75,000 people. People with large social media followings have also been engaged to help share the story, including the Ontario Nursing Association and the Police Association of Ontario.
In addition to the social media efforts, Brad said, “Our cousins started up an orange wristband campaign and nurses at Norfolk General started a t-shirt campaign and pottery for Shannon…. Nurses from NGH have hosted blood drives in Shannon’s honour. Friends of family have posted the Canadian Blood Services’ posters all over and engaged with countless local business, who have also taken to social media to spread the word. We’ve done radio, newspaper interviews, and are scheduled to do an interview with CHCH. We would love to have a celebrity backing to take the message even farther.”
Brad said the community’s support has been “overwhelming! We have both given a lot over the years to others, both professionally and extracurricularly, but never expected we’d need that favour returned. But here it is tenfold!”
Although Shannon sometimes feels emotional and wonders if her children will grow up without a mother, Brad says for the most part “she has done very well.”
“The night that she first went to the hospital though she told me, ‘I feel like I’m dying’ and she was serious,” said Brad. “After about a week and a bit she began to get strength back while on the chemo. The chemo keeps killing the bad cells, which helps her feel okay, just tired.” Shannon finished her first round of chemotherapy on March 6.
“Fortunately, she hasn’t had adverse side effects to the chemo thus far. She just finished having her own stem cells put back in and smells strongly of creamed corn, which is a strange side effect from the DMSO mixed with her stem cells from when they extracted them and froze them.”
“From what I understand they want to do the allogeneic transplant in July,” said Brad. “If they don’t have a suitable donor at that time, they will start this whole process over with chemo and her own stem cells again.”
A stem cell transplant outcome depends on many factors, including “how well the donor and patient matched, the type and stage of the disease, the health and age of the patient, the age of the donor, and how many stem cells are transplanted,” explained Chris van Doorn, Territory Manager in Stem Cells, Canadian Blood Services. “While there are no guarantees for the patient, a transplant may be the best hope of returning to good health.”
“Some people find a match right away, others wait two years,” said van Doorn. “Not all patients looking for a match find one, but the more people who register to be a stem cell donor, the higher the chances are of finding a match for patients who are waiting.”
When you register to be a stem cell donor, you are registering to potentially help every one of the over 800 Canadian patients in need. You can also be put on a worldwide registry to help those in other countries as well. If you are between the ages of 17 and 35, you can register to be a donor and will remain on the list until 60 years of age.
“The national and international transplant community has defined the ‘optimal donors’ as young males between the ages of 17 and 35,” said van Doorn. “The average age for a stem cell donor in Canada is 27 years old…. Stem cells from younger donors can offer the possibility of better patient outcomes by reducing post-transplant complications. Younger donors will also remain on the stem cell registry longer, thereby leading to fewer registrants needing to be recruited.”
There are two types of donation procedures: peripheral blood stem cell donation (PBSC) and bone marrow stem cell donation. Shannon needs a PBSC donation, which is a non-surgical procedure.
“PBSC donors receive an injection of a drug called granulocyte colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) every day for four days prior to the donation. These injections stimulate the production and release of stem cells from the bone marrow into the blood stream. Additional injections may be required on the day of the donation. The stem cells are then collected using a procedure called apheresis,” said van Doorn. “Apheresis is a collection method where only the stem cells are separated and collected during donation. The remaining blood components are returned to the donor. This is a non-surgical procedure and takes approximately four to six hours. In some cases, a second donation is required the following day.”
For more information on stem cell donors and patients, visit blood.ca/stemcells. To register, visit blood.ca/Match4Shannon. To share Shannon’s campaign on social media, or for more information, visit Shannon’s Plasma Cell Mates (Facebook) or @shannons_plasma_cell_mates(Instagram).