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Meet Alex: transplant recipient, AML survivor, champion

Alex Tung   //  

Hello everyone! I’m so honored to be a featured champion for the 2020 Champion Challenge campaign. As a six-year blood cancer survivor, the word “champion” really resonates with how I’m feeling about myself these days.

Shortly after I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in June of 2014, doctors told me a bone marrow transplant would be my only chance for survival. According to them, I’d be more likely to match a potential donor who shares a similar ethnic background to mine because genetic traits used to determine a match are inherited. Given my Chinese ancestry, and the fact that Chinese people make up one of the largest populations in the world (close to 1.5 billion people), I thought if anyone was going to have an easy time finding a match, it was going to be me—boy, was I wrong!

As it turns out, many ethnic backgrounds, including Asian, are severely underrepresented on the Be The Match Registry®. In fact, only two out of five patients of Asian descent find their donor match. And only one in four Black or African American patients find theirs. Fundraising is critical to closing the gap.

The search for my life-saving donor match continued unsuccessfully over six months. As my situation grew more dire with the possibility of the cancer returning, I agreed to a clinical trial where they would do a transplant using stem cells collected from an umbilical cord, instead of stems cells collected from an adult donor. Fortunately for me, these cord blood stems cells accepted my body as their new home and they’re now thriving inside me, keeping me cancer-free, healthy and alive!

The dictionary defines a champion as, 1) winner in a competition 2) warrior or fighter 3) advocate or defender 4) one that does battle for another’s rights or honor. To me, these words perfectly sum up the spirit of Be The Match® and the people they serve. With my cancer diagnosis, I was faced with a fierce competition and I accepted the challenge. I am a warrior; I fought a great battle and I won. And I’ve been an advocate for Be The Match, a defender of saving lives, ever since they saved mine.

This summer I have a goal of raising at least $2,020 for the Team Be The Match Champion Challenge fundraising campaign. For my challenge, I plan to run, jog or walk at least two miles 30 times before the end of August. I’d love you to join me by creating a Champion Challenge fundraiser of your own. You don’t have to run or walk; you can turn whatever you love to do into a fundraising challenge. (Be The Match has a lot of great ideas to get you started.)

I am proud to be dedicating my challenge to my friend Bernard Llave, (8/19/1974 - 5/16/2020) of Team b.strong. Every dollar raised will help Be The Match add more potential donors to the registry, support patients and families with uninsured costs and fund life-saving research projects. Not only do I plan to reach my $2,020 fundraising goal, I plan to spend the rest of this beautiful thing called life battling for the rights and honor of all people by carrying myself, and living every day, as a champion.

To learn more about the challenges mixed race patients face in finding their marrow donor match, I recommend the award-winning Mixed Match Project (you might see a familiar face). To help Be The Match fundraise grow and diversify the donor registry, join the Champion Challenge. Then choose your goal—and change a life.

Alex Tung

Alex Tung is a native Los Angeleno who was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 38. As is the case for so many Asian-Americans there was no match for Alex on the registry, so he received a life-saving cord blood transplant. Five years post-transplant and healthier than ever, Alex has made it his mission to share his story and provide hope for other searching patients.