“...It is really not that hard and it means so much to the people who need a donor, to their family and friends. You can literally give us a life!”
Rabat – Doctors count over 80 types of blood cancers, and for some patients, chemotherapy might not be their worst nightmare. When cancer cells are chemotherapy resistant, the only thing many patients of blood cancers can do is pray for the help of matching stem cell donors.
Like every human organ, stem cells are coded by a genetic system. The more people are genetically close to each other, either by family or race, the higher the chances to achieve compatibility.
While matching stem cell donors are usually hard to find due to the lack of potential donors, patients with a mixed race background, such as 35-year-old Dutch-Moroccan Nadira Cherradi, face exceptional difficulty.
Born to a Moroccan father and a Dutch mother, Nadira has been suffering from Hodgkin lymphoma for over a year, a type of lymphoma in which cancer originates from a type of white blood cell called lymphocyte.
Currently hospitalized, she has been reaching out for a year, with the help of her family and friends, looking for a donor that would match her mixed race DNA in a world that lacks awareness about stem cell donation.
Chemotherapy damages not only cancer cells but also healthy cells, including in the bone marrow, the source of new blood cells. A stem cell transplant, today often using stem cells easily taken from blood, allows doctors to use higher doses of chemotherapy to treat resistant cancers by rebuilding the patient’s bone marrow.
The longer Nadira waits for a stem cell transplant while her current treatment merely slows down the spread of her cancer, the more her cells will be damaged.
Nadira’s search for a diagnosis
Nadira’s struggle started in 2016 when she started developing all typical Hodgkin lymphoma symptoms, including skin itchiness and a high heart rate, but doctors failed to deliver a proper diagnosis, telling her that “it was all in her head.”
In 2017, Nadira had to call an ambulance because she could not breathe. She also had a high heart rate, but once again doctors said this was just a panic attack.
Her blood results were fine and the only thing doctors recommended were iron tablets for her fatigue. Once again doctors failed to discover her pathology, and the cancer continued to spread quickly in her weakened body.
By the beginning of 2019, Nadira’s right arm started to hurt, her breathing felt uncomfortable, she was coughing constantly, and she experienced night sweats and fever, all accompanied by worsening fatigue.
The symptoms were too serious to attribute to panic or anxiety. Doctors finally told Nadira to go to the hospital, where they discovered an alarming deficit in hemoglobin and finally diagnosed her with Hodgkin lymphoma.
Unsuccessful chemotherapy and the last option
Nadira told Morocco World News that her first round of chemotherapy in October 2019 was unsuccessful and was followed by another round only two months later, in December.
Nadira started the third round of chemotherapy in April 2020, after her body again failed to respond to the treatment. The young woman lost her hair and constant pain and weakness pervaded her body.
The Moroccan-born woman said that that coughing, fever, night sweats, and itchiness marked her sleepless nights once again after another chemotherapy failure.
“I was at the ER all time, then they found out my cancer cells are chemotherapy resistant, it was also very aggressive.”
Nadira’s last option today, as she continues to undergo yet-unsuccessful chemotherapy, is to find a matching stem cell donor to finally address her cancer in the most effective way.
Being mixed race and of partial North African descent, chances are low for Nadira to find a matching donor. This is due to both the serious lack of donors of this ethnicity and the fact that no stem cell donor bank exists in Morocco.
Nadira’s hope is to find a matching donor among the Moroccan diaspora, who live in countries with stem cell donor banks.
In addition to physical pain, patients like Nadira suffer a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty amid a serious lack of awareness among those healthy people who have the opportunity to save lives.
You can save lives
People often abstain from making the first step in approaching the donor bank based on incorrect assumptions — many imagine huge needles and long stays in the hospital, which simply do not apply in most cases. In fact, becoming a stem cell donor today is often almost as simple as giving blood.
For the director of the stem cell transplant unit at the Baylor Scott & White Health hospital in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Edward Agura, the transplant process often requires no surgery, nor an isolation room.
“Some patients are transplanted without even spending a day in the hospital,” stressed the doctor.
Nadira’s cousin Rkia Cherradi reached out to MWN in hopes of finding a donor for people sharing Nadira’s struggle and to raise awareness on the culture of stem cell donation, about which many people hold misconceptions.
“Globally, many people think it is scary to become a donor and that you need to go to a hospital and donate immediately. But you get tested through a swab kit and will only be asked to donate stem cells when you are actually matched with a patient,” Rkia wrote, mentioning that currently, the chances of finding a donor for patients of “non-Western” descent are around 1 in 50,000.
As for Nadira herself, she told MWN she hopes others “will never need a stem cell donor, but we must help each other. It is hard for people like us [mixed race] to find a match in the worldwide database.”
“Help your brothers and sisters in need. It is really not that hard and it means so much to the people who need a donor, to their family and friends. You can literally give us a life!”