A three-time cancer survivor says one thing helped save her life

A three-time cancer survivor says one thing helped save her life
(Source: Blair Cauthen)
(Source: Blair Cauthen)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - If you saw Blair Cauthen on a stroll down the Riverwalk, you'd never guess she battled cancer three times before she ever turned 15.

It was during her third fight that she relied on an anonymous donor from the Be The Match Registry to help save her life.

"It's hard not to see the beauty here and think about how great things are and all the things I've been through and what I've come to today," Cauthen, of Columbia, said.

That's because 27 years ago Cauthen's life looked very different.

"My mom said that they called from daycare, and I was sick and not feeling well and so they took me to the doctor," Cauthen said.

Blair says she was only 2 ½ years old when she was first diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, or AML.

"We went through nine rounds of chemo at that time, and I went into remission," Cauthen said. "They sent me to Duke to have my healthy bone marrow harvested in the event that I would relapse again because at that time I did not have a match for a transplant inside my family."

Blair says she also didn't have a match on the Be The Match national bone marrow registry. The hope was she wouldn't need one, but after just a few years it appeared they would be searching again.

"I was in remission for three years and then relapsed again when I was in the first grade," Cauthen said.

Now 6 years old and still no match on the registry, doctors used her own healthy marrow they had harvested to treat her AML. That seemed to work, until her freshman year of high school.

"They did a bone marrow aspiration and knew that it was back and at that time they knew I needed a donor transplant to be back in remission," Cauthen said.

Cauthen's family knew an anonymous donor would be her best hope, but with no matches on the registry years before they didn't know what to expect.

"We had a bone marrow drive in my town and went back to the registry, and it took some time and they realized they're still wasn't anything in the registry [in the U.S.]."

But Cauthen says it was an international search that turned up a pretty good match. Five months after her cancer came back, Cauthen went in for transplant. It was a stranger she would later learn was a man from Germany who saved her life.

"My family flew them here because all of my family and friends wanted to meet them, of course," Cauthen said.

Cauthen says her donor and his family are now part of her family.

"We email as much as possible, we try to Skype with them," Cauthen said. "My family and I've been to Germany to see them and spend some time with them so it's really great to have them as part of our family now."

His gift is the reason she wants others to know how easy it is to do the same.

"I think a lot of people don't realize that it's just a simple as a swab of the cheek and they can mail the kit to your home and you can match someone, and literally save a life just by donating your marrow," Cauthen said. "It's painful for a few days I think, but after that, you can live a normal life and have saved someone else's at the same time."

Cauthen, a Lancaster native, continues to be a voice for people battling cancer and annual promotes the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. She's also a board member of Kick it Kaylin, one of our partners in our Marrowthon campaign. Cauthen fought Acute Myeloid Leukemia, the same cancer Kaylin Zimms battled before she passed away just last August.

You can help give someone like Cauthen a chance at life by joining us at this week's Be The Match Game of the Week at Blythewood High School as they take on Dutch Fork High School to sign up on the Be The Match registry.

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