Kelly Satter Anderson, 42, needs a bone marrow transplant.
As the Mesa mom talks on the phone with a reporter, her 16-month-old son, Jack, demands some of her time.
But her conversation isn’t about him, and she doesn’t focus it on herself.
Instead, Anderson talks about the good she hopes can come from this personal battle with acute myeloid leukemia that she and her husband have chosen to take public.
Anderson’s friends and family have rallied around her, and with the help of the National Marrow Donor Program’s Phoenix office, they have organized three events in the next two months where people can sign up with the national bone marrow registry.
During bone marrow donor recruitment events, it takes a few seconds for volunteers to collect a tissue swab from an adult’s cheek. The tissue type information is entered into the National Marrow Donor Program, where more than 6,000 people awaiting a transplant can seek a match.
Anderson is one of those people.
“It’s most likely that what everybody is doing with these drives is going to benefit so many more people. It’s about so much more than me as an individual. It’s about educating others about the bone marrow process,” Anderson said. “That’s why I believe this is happening to me. It’s for a greater cause.”
Anderson was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood or bone marrow, in March. A few weeks earlier, she completed a half marathon, but had pain in her knee. She followed up with an MRI that showed abnormalities in her bone marrow.
She was awaiting further testing when she collapsed on March 21. She then received her diagnosis.
“It was extremely frightening. We were just told it was leukemia. The first couple days they used words like malignancy. We didn’t really know much about leukemia, and I didn’t associate leukemia with cancer. It was hard the first few days,” Anderson recalls.
She underwent induction chemotherapy, a 24-hour-a-day regiment for seven days. Because of her lowered immune system, she spent 35 days in the hospital.
She also came face-to-face with a familiar group of doctors: the same ones who had just finished helping her husband through a nine-week course of radiation. Curtis Anderson, 55, has been battling prostate cancer for five years.
Kelly Anderson is now undergoing outpatient chemotherapy at the Mayo Clinic and is on leave from her job as director of clinical services for mental health in the Scottsdale Unified School District. She previously served 16 years as a school psychologist in the Mesa Unified School District.
The Andersons learned the best course of action for Kelly is a bone marrow transplant. But after seeking a donor through family and friends, they turned to the national registry. Even with 8 million people on it nationwide, there is still not a suitable match for Kelly.
So the Andersons’ friends and family organized the recruitment efforts.
About 66,000 people in Arizona are registered with the National Marrow Donor Program, said Oscar Correa, director of the program’s Arizona office.
“About 35,000 get diagnosed with some type of blood cancer: leukemia, lymphoma, neuroblastoma, sickle-cell disease,” Correa said. “About 10,000 of them are going to need a marrow transplant.”
Of those 10,000, only about 25 percent will find a match through family, Correa said.
“Usually, Caucasians match readily. I have some kind of strange DNA they’re not able as of yet to find a match,” Anderson said.
During the last registry event in the Valley, on Labor Day 2009, about 400 people signed up and had their tissue typed, Correa said.
The Andersons are hoping for many, many more during the three planned registry events in May and June.
“We had no idea what leukemia was or that there’s so many blood disorders that require a bone marrow transplant. Our friends have created this caring circle, and they’re sending out e-mail blasts and all this positive energy. You feel there is good karma surrounding this and I will find a match and so many other people will find a match as well,” she said.