A former Wallaceburg resident who is battling a type of blood cancer is calling on the community to register as stem cell donors so people like her have a better chance of finding a match.
Laura Laycock-Collard, who now lives in Ottawa, said she was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia about 15 months ago. She said there are targeted chemotherapies to stop the growth of white blood cells, but her body hasn’t been able to tolerate the three treatments she has tried.
“Without those targeted therapies, my disease just keeps progressing,” she said. “They’ve got me on a non-targeted chemo right now, which they have just doubled … to try to reduce all of my blood levels and just to give us a little more time to come up with other options.”
Laycock-Collard said the treatments are meant to keep her condition from getting worse, but having a stem cell transplant is the only cure.
The 40-year-old is looking for a match through the Global Stem Cell Registry. She said the registry started the search for her in August and she found out almost two weeks ago there wasn’t a match for her in the system.
“As soon as a new person registers, their information is checked against every one of the possible recipients that are waiting for a possible transplant,” she said. “Each day a new person puts their information into that bank, each one of us has another chance at maybe finding that match.”
Her Middle Eastern/European ethnicity is underrepresented in the registry, her husband Joel Collard said.
“Some countries, like Lebanon, don’t actually have national public registries, which makes finding a match for certain ethnic profiles much more difficult,” he said.
Laycock-Collard’s family moved away from Wallaceburg when she was three and then moved back when she was 17.
At that age, she went to the Royal Military College for university and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force.
“I was in air cadets and the thought of representing Canada around the world was something that meant a lot to me,” she said. “I have had the privilege of going all across the world and representing Canada for the past 23 years, so it’s been pretty amazing.”
She works as an aerospace engineer for the military, though she has been on sick leave since she was diagnosed. She said she was ill for a few years before doctors determined the cause.
“So many of the symptoms of leukemia are the same as those with other diseases and I presented with some rare ones,” Laycock-Collard said. “They didn’t figure out that it was leukemia until my white blood cells were about 12 times the upper limit of what the highest limit of normal was.”
The disease has affected “every aspect” of her life, she said, as she has limited mobility and a compromised immune system.
“On a good day, me and my husband try to get outside and maybe walk around the block if I can, but some days it’s hard for me to even walk across the room,” she said.
Laycock-Collard is documenting her battle with leukemia on social media at www.facebook.com/mybattlewithleukemia.
Joel Collard said it is fairly simple to register as a stem cell donor. In Canada, people can register through the Canadian Blood Services website at www.blood.ca/en/stemcells. The organization will send a cheek swab through mail free of charge.
It is open to people between ages 17 and 35. Canadians living abroad can also register through this system.
“It really only takes one person to make a big difference,” Laycock-Collard said. “Just by registering and donating stem cells, they have the power to save someone’s life.”