Nova Scotia

N.S. cancer patient turns to Facebook to find bone marrow match

Stacey Gould, a cancer patient from Amherst, N.S., posted a lighthearted personal ad on Facebook this week calling all men between the ages of 18 and 35. But she's not looking for a date.

Stacey Gould likes 'to find the funny in everything, but a little bit more so now'

Stacey Gould's search for a man between the ages of 18 and 35 could save her life. (Submitted by Stacey Gould)

Stacey Gould is looking for her match. 

The Amherst, N.S., woman posted a lighthearted personal ad on Facebook this week calling all men between the ages of 18 to 35.

But she doesn't want a date — she needs bone marrow for a life-saving transplant.

Gould, who was diagnosed with leukemia in March of last year, is used to looking on the bright side of things, but she never expected her post to get so much attention.

"It's just overwhelming," Gould told CBC's Information Morning this week. "I've got friend requests. I get phone calls, shares and likes and texts.... It's quite humbling and I'm grateful for that."

Gould has become an expert in taking life's curveballs with grace and humour. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer when she was 35, then uterine cancer six years ago. She beat both. 

On Monday, her doctor delivered more bad news, saying he wasn't optimistic another round of radiation and chemotherapy would work in defeating the leukemia. 

"Now it was serious enough to talk about transplant," Gould said. "So I agreed to not postpone the inevitable and just go ahead with the process. The earlier the better, right?"

She hopes that by sharing her story on social media, she'll find her own match and help others too.

"I hope to make also others aware of this donor registry and more registrations hopefully means more matches for others who are in need of this life-saving transplant," she said.

Match depends on genetics 

Bone marrow donation is also known as blood stem cell donation, and Gould is one of about 1,000 people in Canada looking for a match, according to the Canadian Blood Services. 

About 25 per cent of people can't find a match in their family, so they turn to the stem cell registry, which includes 150,000 Canadian donors and millions more around the world. 

"A large number of our patients who do search for matches do have a good chance of finding a stem cell match," said Dr. Heidi Elmoazzen, director of the stem cell program at Canadian Blood Services.

The whole process can take weeks or months, depending on whether a match can be found and where they live, she said. 

"Whether you have a match really depends on your own genetic makeup, so people of certain backgrounds tend to have an easier time finding a match," she said.

It can be harder for Black and Indigenous patients to be paired with a donor because there are fewer diverse donors in the registry, said Elmoazzen, adding that they're working hard to recruit more people and change that. 

Who can be a donor?

People who want to donate bone marrow must be healthy and between the ages of 17 and 35 because transplant recipients seem to do better when they have stem cells from a younger donor, said Elmoazzen. 

Men also tend to make the best stem cell donors because they can give more cells, she said.

Donors can give bone marrow through a surgical procedure that lasts under an hour and a half and requires anesthesia. People can also donate peripheral blood stem cells through a process that's very similar to donating blood. 

Gould was diagnosed with leukemia last March after already beating cervical and uterine cancer. (Submitted by Stacey Gould)

Elmoazzen said the risk to donors is relatively low with both procedures, but even so, it can be hard to find people within the age range willing to follow through.

About 50 per cent of people who've signed up for the stem cell registry back out when they get called, she said. 

"We just really encourage people to get as much information as possible so that they're comfortable with the idea," she said. "Because we'd rather have people not sign up than sign up and back out because that just actually adds time and delays for someone who is waiting for a transplant."

I've always had a sense of humour and like to find the funny in everything.- Stacey Gould

Gould's friends have created a Facebook page to encourage people near and far to consider donating and to share information about the process.

As for Gould, she's still processing this week's news and spending as much time as she can in her garden.

"I've always had a sense of humour and like to find the funny in everything, but a little bit more so now," she said.

With files from CBC's Information Morning