Currently, out of the 10,000 Americans per year who are diagnosed with blood cancer, 700 are Asian. In 2008, only 125 of those received transplants.

So far, Team Matthew has registered more than 10,000 Vietnamese donors, 70 percent of them from Orange County.

Nguyen’s family has held bone-marrow drives every weekend, which has been both a blessing to him and a source of guilt. He especially worries about his fiancee, whom he was supposed to marry in May. Due to his relapse and chemo treatments, the wedding, though all paid for, had to be postponed.

Matthew Nguyen undergoes routine monitoring of his blood-sugar level
Diep Tran
Matthew Nguyen undergoes routine monitoring of his blood-sugar level

“I feel like I’m holding her back. What she plans to do in the future depends on me now. We can’t have kids yet,” he says. “Sometimes, I feel like I’m a burden.”

School is also on hold. Because of the cancer, Nguyen has missed two years of pharmacy school. If he were to return to Virginia now, he would have to repeat his first year. If he had not gotten ill, he would have graduated this in May.

“You see all your friends getting married and finishing school, and you’re stuck. You can’t really continue, and you don’t know what to do,” he says. “It’s very frustrating.”

Recently, Nguyen got more disheartening news when he was told that a donor had been found for him. After two months of chemotherapy and agonized waiting, he found out that the donor, for unspecified reasons, had decided not to commit to the process.

“The worst thing is knowing there’s someone out there who could save your life, and they don’t want to do it because they’re scared,” he says. “They don’t fully understand how serious it is and how easy it is for them.”

To register with the NMDP database, it only takes a cheek swab. And if a match is found and a donor called forward, the donation process itself—contrary to the horror scenes depicted in medical dramas—is no harder than giving blood. There is a needle involved, but no pain, no bone removed and no expense to the donor. Donors will feel sore for up to a week afterward but suffer no lasting effects.

Despite the setbacks, both personal and medical, Nguyen remains resolute and cautiously optimistic. He believes that everything happens for a reason, even if sometimes, he can’t find it.

Three other Vietnamese patients in Orange County have recently gone public with their need for bone-marrow transplants. Like Nguyen, they have not found matching donors.

“If I don’t ever find a donor, and we find a donor for someone else,” Nguyen declares, “I’ll be happy because I know that we’d be helping other people.”

For more information and ways to register, please visit the Navel Gazing blog.

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