Before Christmas, an urgent bone marrow appeal was launched for Stella Charalambous, a 45-year-old mother of one who has leukaemia. Among those spearheading the campaign to find her a blood donor match is her friend of 34 years Naz Hassan.
The two, pictured above with another close friend Tina Agsti, are originally from North London, and while Stella and her family now live in Cyprus, the ladies have remained in close contact.
“We’ve been best friends since high school and share lots of brilliant memories. Stella’s married with a lovely 3-year-old boy, and even though the family now live abroad, we remain in close contact.
“She’s currently in hospital receiving chemotherapy. There’s been no matching donor so far. Every day, Stella’s family pray for a miracle,” Ms Hassan told T-VINE.
Stella’s appeal for a donor was initiated by Tina Agsti, who teamed up with Androulla Stylianou, the head of the UK-based Leukaemia Cancer Society (tel 020 8374 4821), a vital support organisation for numerous Greek and Turkish Cypriots seeking blood donors.
Stella’s friends, Ms Hassan among them, quickly rallied round, sharing details of the appeal online, and with ethnic community media. They have also been distributing flyers and posters in North London, where there is a large Cypriot community, in a bid to drive up registration numbers and help find a donor for their seriously ill friend.
HELP SAVE A LIFE! Please click on this link to register online: it only takes a few minutes
Their appeal is being supporters by British blood charity DKMS, which can arrange a mass swab testing session for groups, or they can send a special kit home for people to do their own swab test.
Currently, the odds of finding a match for Cypriots, whether Greek or Turkish, is very low due to the small number of people from both communities being registered on the global blood register. The two communities share similar genetic codes, making them highly suitable for blood donor matches.
During the campaign for Talia Tosun, T-VINE discovered that there is a 70% chance of a donor match for those who are white British, yet this figure drops to just 20% for British Turks and Cypriots.
“As a community, we need to pull together. People shouldn’t just read and ignore this appeal. We really have to help each other, as this illness can strike any of us at any age. So please take the [swab] test – your blood could potentially save a life,” urged Ms Hassan.
To help improve the odds of survival for blood cancer patients of Cypriot, Turkish, and Middle Eastern heritage, simple register online for a DKMS cheek swab kit. It’s open to all UK residents who are healthy and aged between 17- 55 years of age.
The swab test itself is a painless, 30-second procedure. You use a cotton-bud to rub on the inside of your cheek, which is returned to DKMS in a sealed bag. Its labs will do the necessary tests and add your details to the UK blood register, which is accessible to other blood charities worldwide. You only need to do the test once and it will cover you until you reach 55.
Naz Hassan: “I really hope this campaign can help Stella, Talia, & others fighting this dreadful disease – it’s vital people get registered, so we can improve the odds for all Cypriots”
Where a match is generated, the process for donating stem cells is far easier and less invasive than previously, and there are no known health risks. You simply give blood, which is used for stem cell treatment of the patient with blood cancer.
“I really hope this campaign can help Stella, Talia, and others fighting this dreadful disease,” said Ms Hassan. “These appeals are also great in uniting our communities, but ultimately it’s vital people get registered, so we can improve the odds for all Cypriots.”
Main photo, top (l-r): Tina Agsti, Stella Charlambous & Naz Hassan, school friends from North London, at a recent reunion