|September 26, 2013
Bone marrow registry drive could mean a match for Chrissy Ducharme
By B.L. Azure
Chrissy Ducharme’s extended family has been a source of spiritual uplift in her time of need and they showed up to support the bone marrow registry effort. (Front row, from left are: her sister Leann Cutfinger, father Steve Ducharme and mother Toni Ducharme. Back row from left are: Sammi Huber, Christa Banguis, Dr. LeeAnna Muzquiz, Steph Irvine, Carrie Irvine, Chrissy Ducharme, Tammy Koehler and Denise Banguis. (B.L. Azure photo)
POLSON — Chissy Ducharme knows the love of family, it has been an important component of her battle against leukemia. That love and concern, as well as that of the public, was on full force display at the recent bone marrow registry drive at the Polson Tribal Health and Human Services Clinic. More than 40 people, many family members and many non-family folks turned out to participate in “Be The Match” bone marrow match registry effort — it met the Be The Match goal.
This past June, Chrissy, the 35-year-old mother of four daughters was diagnosed with leukemia and is in need of a bone marrow transplant. It could mean a new lease on life and more time with her daughters, extended family and friends.
Magda Silva, Senior Account Executive of Portland, Oregon Division of the National Bone Marrow Program that conducted the registry drive, said most patients in need of a bone marrow transplant match better with their specific ethnic group.
In Chrissy’s case, that is American Indian ethnicity. However Silva said only one percent of American Indians are currently in the national registry and more, many more are needed. Although ethnicity is an important factor, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a family member bone marrow donation would increase the odds. Chrissy’s sister Leann Cutfinger offered to donate her bone marrow but it wasn’t a match — nationally only 30 percent of siblings match.
“We are doing a lot more outreach efforts in ethnic communities but there continues to be barriers,” Silva said, adding that the barriers are cultural-based concerns and the lack on knowledge about the issue and need. “There is a lack of awareness about the whole issue, the need and how the registry works.”
Silva said younger bone marrow donors are preferred because they have historically resulted in better outcomes for patients in need of a bone marrow transplant. That in part has resulted in increasing the survival rate from 50- to 70-percent in the last few years. “Younger males are the best donors,” she said, adding that the national bone marrow registry only registers people from 18- though 44-years of age. “Chrissy is not only the point of this particular registry effort she is also aware that this will benefit the whole tribal community.”
Chrissy said there were warning signs that she attributed to working long hours and mother four young daughters. They included, among other things, fatigue and bruises.
“My daughter noticed bruises on my arms. I didn’t recall doing things that would bruise my body like that,” she said. “I went to see my mother (Toni Ducharme) and she expressed concern about the bruising.”
“I looked at the bruising and after a bit of time I noticed they weren’t going away,” Toni said. “I also noticed that she would get extremely tired from working.”
Jeana Moore and Magda Silva of the Be The Match bone marrow registry inform Tammy Koehler and Christa Banguis about the process of donating to the registry. (B.L. Azure photo)
Together they decided to seek medical advice.
“I decided to do get a check up and got some blood work and as a result of the test was told what I had were symptoms of leukemia,” Chrissy said. “I was referred to oncologist, Dr. Patrick Beatty (then at St. Patrick Cancer Center).”
Dr. Beatty ran more tests. “When I went back to Dr. Beatty for the results from the tests, I noticed a change in his demeanor,” she said. “He just wasn’t his normal self. When he told me I had leukemia, I just went blank.”
The news slammed mother Toni too.
“I was shocked. My heart just broke,” Toni said. She spent the next three months in Missoula with Chrissy while she was being treated with chemotherapy. Chrissy was eventually able to come home but still receives the chemotherapy.
“Thank you mom for being there for me,” Chrissy told her mother Toni during the interview with this reporter.
“I told Chrissy that’s what moms do. I said she would do the same for her daughters,” Toni said of the love a mother. “I am going to be by her side all the way. There are times when we break down and cry. We have done a lot of praying.”
“I have good days and I have bad days,” Chrissy said. “I have days where I just want to scream and I do. I can’t let that feeling bottle up inside of me. I have to get it out.”
Chrissy’s four daughters are 8- to 16-years of age. The oldest stays at home with Chrissy while the others are staying with her sister Leann Cutfinger in Arlee. “I look at my daughters’ pictures every single day,” she said. “They are part of my inspiration for fighting this battle.”
Toni said her extended family has provided a lot of support especially that of sister Leann and father Steve Ducharme, who has battled with physical disabilities the last 25 years his life. “Steve has been our rock that we cling to,” Toni said. “He is always there for us to talk to and he does all the things needed to take care of his family during these trying times.”
“My first reaction was ‘Damn it,’” Steve said. “I told she had to stay positive and not go to the negative side no matter how hard this gets. Don’t let this eat you up cause it will. I try to be the pillar for our family, including our dogs. Whenever they need a laugh they come to me.”
“This is something we all have to get through,” Leann said of her family. “I was absolutely heartbroken. My heart just broke in half when Chrissy was told she had leukemia.”
It was a whole bunch of hands on deck at the Be The Match bone marrow registry effort at the Polson THHS Clinic. From left are: Dr. LeeAnna Muzquiz, Margene Asay, Carrie Irvine, Steph Irivine, Leann Cutfinger, Chrissy Ducharme, Sabrina Bual, Catherine Addison, Jeana Moore, Magda Silva and Denise Banguis. (B.L. Azure photo)
Leann said the registry drive would also benefit others and expressed her heartfelt gratitude for all involved. “There has been great family and community support today. That is nice,” LeAnn said. “I hope this is something we can do once a year because it is so beneficial for those in need of bone marrow transplants.”
“This is overwhelming,” Chrissy said about the registry effort, and Toni concurred. “I am so very thankful for each and everyone of the people involved in this.”
The registry effort was spearheaded by THHS Polson Division Medical Director Dr. LeeAnna Muzquiz, and THHS Fitness Centers Manager Margene Asay.
“After I found out that I wasn’t a match, I asked LeeAnna to do this and she got a hold of Margene,” Leann said, adding that she keeps Chrissy’s children up to speed on her condition daily. “I want them to ask questions and I answer them straight forward the best I can.”
Within three weeks of hard work the dynamic duo had all the ducks in a row that resulted in the Be The Match bone marrow registry drive.
“Margene has been the energy bunny behind this,” Steve said. “She gets everyone charged up.”
“She’s dynamite,” Dr. Muzquiz said of Asay.
“We want to do whatever it takes to get her back in good health,” Asay said. “We should all say a prayer for Chrissy.”
For more information on the bone marrow registry, visit the website: bethematch.org