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African American patients have only a 23% chance of finding a donor - Let's Change That

People

Like most people, Tiffany Davis hoped she’d never have to battle cancer. But now she’s facing her second battle with the deadly disease. The thirty-two-year-old from Miami, FL graduated with honors in the top 10 percent of her class from Miami Jackson Sr. High and went on to Florida A&M University to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Sciences and a Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration.


Before fighting cancer became her “career,” Davis was a Financial Counselor at a local hospital. “I have started some entrepreneurial projects. I'm a brand ambassador for a health and wellness company as well as a Certified Lash Technician and looking into going into beauty school.” But cancer doesn’t care about any of Davis’ credentials or successes. Cancer is an undiscriminating beast.

Davis was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was twenty-eight-years-old. It was December 19, 2014. She discovered a lump under her left armpit, and due to her family history of breast cancer, she told her gynecologist that she was concerned. That’s when she found out that what she feared was true.

Getting through chemo, double mastectomy and radiation was only possible with the support of her family and friends and even strangers, “Once I decided to share my journey through social media, I received a lot of support. My family and friends also accompanied me at every chemo appointment. I never had to go through any of this alone.” Davis says her family is everything to her. “They are super supportive. I am the oldest of three siblings from my dad and I’m my mom’s only baby.”

“Once I decided to share my journey through social media, I received a lot of support. My family and friends also accompanied me at every chemo appointment. I never had to go through any of this alone.” -Tiffany Davis

She beat breast cancer and dared to breathe again. Then during a routine blood workup, her breast oncologist delivered a devastating blow - a leukemia diagnosis. On a January 2017 visit her labs were normal, but by June they were not. After repeated tests, a PET scan, blood work and finally a bone marrow biopsy, it was discovered that it was Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). This was July 31, 2017.

The AML was caused by the chemotherapy treatment she endured during her bout with breast cancer. It was something Davis had been concerned about since her first cancer diagnosis. When she beat cancer the first time Davis said she felt relieved, but was fearful of reoccurrence. “I tried to do holistic remedies to keep me as healthy as possible. I believe in doing modern medicine in combination with holistic remedies.”

Finding out later that she had leukemia she said, quite simply-- sucked. “I couldn’t believe that I would have to endure this for a second time.” She had witnessed other women who had had recurrences and hadn’t survived. It was terrifying to watch women so young die from this disease. “Even though mine wasn’t a reoccurrence, I knew what difficulties I may face. I had already gone through so much at a young age, but as I mentioned before I don’t back down easily.” Davis knew what had to be done and if chemo treatment was the plan of action, she was going to do it.

“In my heart, I know that everything will work itself out" - Tiffany Davis (Photo Courtesy, Tiffany Davis)

Davis has moments when she doesn’t know if she’s strong enough or has the patience to wait for good news. She gets tired and faces disappointment again and again, but there is no other option than to keep fighting, “In my heart, I know that everything will work itself out.” Sharing her story with others uplifts her and is a part of her healing. “There are so many people going through so many things in life. I’m just brave enough to share mine.” Having an amazing support system is key. My family and friends are the bomb if I may say so myself.”

If you ask Davis to describe herself, one word rings loud and clear - resilient. “Despite what I am going through I still push through adversity.” She has faith that this is just one chapter of her journey and does not define who she is as a person. “I continue to strive and go after the things I want. I’m a very hard worker and don't believe in handouts so I continue to push myself to be a better version of me.” Yet, strength to push through what Davis has lived through might seem impossible to others.

A bone marrow transplant from a genetically matched donor is Davis’ best shot at survival. What she needs now is a match, and finding one for her is no easy task. African Americans have a greater genetic diversity than other populations around the world, which makes finding the right match particularly difficult.

What makes the search even more of a challenge is the fact that so few members of the African American community sign up and register on the Be The Match registry. Because of that, African American patients have only a 23 percent chance of finding a matched donor, whereas the chance of a match for Caucasians is nearly three times that. The solution is singular and simple, more African Americans have to step up and join.

"African American patients have only a 23 percent chance of finding a matched donor, whereas the chance of a match for Caucasians is nearly three times that."

Raising awareness around this and other ways people can support those with cancer has become Davis’s mission. Cancer changed her, and she wants to change that the African American Community is under-represented in the life-saving registry. “Being able to help others, despite me fighting my own battles,” has been the most inspirational part of this otherwise harrowing journey.

Davis says it’s imperative that people sign up to be a part of the registry as an African American. “There is not much diversity within the registry so it makes it hard to find that perfect match or a match at all,” Davis explains. “Imagine all the people that I know that are not a part of the registry. You can potentially be a match. Be a match and save a life.”

She believes that lack of education about what being a donor means and how easily one can donate is the reason that more people don’t register. “Many people think that they have to go through this invasive process and that’s not the case.” A simple swab is all it takes. No cutting or needles is required.

People can register as marrow donors online on Tiffany’s behalf at: https://join.bethematch.org/tiffstrong

Culture

A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.


Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.