Man’s Fight Against Cancer Unveils Challenge Finding Asian-American Bone Marrow Donors
SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — Two years ago, Ryan Manansala was looking for a new apartment and a new job. He was on a date, when his doctor delivered news he never expected.
“You have half the blood that somebody needs and you might collapse any day now,” Manansala said his doctor told him. “You need to check in right away.”
Doctors told him he had cancer of the blood–leukemia. But Manansala decided he wasn’t going to let his diagnosis become a death sentence.
“People will get that whole, like oh, ‘I have cancer, I am going to die and why me?’” he said. “That hit me on later on. I think I was just focused on trying to beat this thing.”
Manansala started to get better after he got an umbilical cord blood transplant.
He was cancer free for almost a year, but it came back. He needed a bone marrow transplant and his best shot at finding a match was among the Filipino-American community.
“If you came from the same background, the same country, the same area in the world then there is a much higher chance that all those proteins on your cell are going to be a perfect match,” said Dr. Stacy Month, a cancer specialist at Kaiser Oakland.
But no one in his family matched and a search of the national donor registry came up empty.
Nearly 11 million Americans are registered according to the Asian-American donor program. Only 7 percent are Asian, while Filipino-Americans make up barely 1 percent of that group.
“You know all that chemo, biopsies and all that blood sweat and tears doesn’t really mean anything until somebody donates and I find that match,” Manansala said.
When his cancer came back, it grew from 5 to 94 percent of his bone marrow and doctors told him that no FDA approved chemotherapy could help.
Even though the odds were against him, he continued to fight–if not for him, for others.
Myla Cunanan, 10, was diagnosed in March with Myeloid Sarcoma, a form of leukemia. Like Manansala, no one in her family was a suitable match.
“She wants to be okay so that no one else would worry about her, especially her parents,” said Erma Francisco, Cunanan’s aunt. “She’s very brave.”
Manansala said his personal battle with cancer has taken on a bigger meaning: helping people like Cunanan overcoming the disease.
In between hospital visits and clinical trials, he has helped inspire hundreds of bone marrow drives within the Filipino-American community.
“It’s really disheartening and you can imagine how upsetting it is to know maybe there are people out there that could be a match,” Month said, “but because they haven’t come forward, you (or) your child isn’t going to be able to be cured.”
Manansala wasn’t able to find the new apartment he was looking for when he was first diagnosed, but he did come away with something much more important.
“Throughout the whole journey, I met other people who passed away,” he said. “You know there were other people on that flyer with me two years ago and most of them passed away, so I’m just happy to at least still be alive.”