Oklahoma man to meet with lawmakers on importance of cancer donor programs

A man from Chickasha will head to Washington, DC this week to share his story with lawmakers and urge continued funding for

At just 27, Howie Jackson got the life-changing news- he had leukemia.

"My diagnosis at 27-years-old a few years ago, was completely out of the ordinary. I shouldn't have had it. It was for people under 18 or over 65," Jackson said.

Doctors told him a bone marrow transplant was his only hope, but with no match they let him to look to another source, umbilical cord blood. Be The Match found six matches. In 2003, Jackson became the first adult in Oklahoma ever to have the transplant.

After a relapse and second transplant, Jackson has been cancer-free for nearly a decade.

"Cord blood is an easy, easy contribution to help save a life. There is no personal donation involved. This is medical waste, basically, that's going to be thrown away after a bay is born," Audrey Womack, the marrow donor program coordinator for the Oklahoma Blood Institute, said. "Its actually an easier process for the patient's recovery to receive the umbilical cord blood than it is to receive bone marrow."

"I'm living proof of what God can do and what the National Marrow Program can do. Just think if it was fully funded," Jackson said.

Jackson will meet with lawmakers on Thursday.

"I'll get to let them know what it really looks like, what the program actually does. That it does save lives," Jackson said,

Be The Match could get hit hard this year. The sequester stands to take $3 million away from the program.

"You can never have enough donors. You don't always have the funds you need to recruit as many as we would like," Womack said.

Donor registry is expensive. Womak said adding donors to the bone marrow list at the OBI costs about $100 a person.

Jackson said the funding becomes especially important when you look at the statistics. Figures from the American Cancer Society show about one in two American men and one in three American women will get cancer in their lifetimes.

"Not may or might-- it's will," Jackson said.

Jackson speaks at American Cancer Society and other events to share his message of hope after his battle and all that he's learned about cancer.

"When my wife and I went through my cancer journey, we didn't know anything. We knew about as much about cancer as the next person which is pretty much nothing," Jackson said,

He urges people to register with Be The Match. It will cost a small fee, but it could save a life.

The majority of people signed up as donors will not actually be called for donations. Only about one in 540 members in the United States donate bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells to a patient, Be The Match said.

"I think we're at 10.5 million people on the registry at this time there will still be 5 or 6,000 people a year, patients a year who don't find a match," Womack said.