MORAGA, Calif. (KGO) -- Dylan Cazin, 22, a Saint Mary's College of California student, helped recruit blood stem cell or bone marrow donors at recent Be the Match drives at his college.
He knows how high the stakes are. Cazin was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2017.
"It definitely was a shock when we got the news," Cazin said. "For my family and I, cancer was the last thing we expected for me to have. It all just happened so suddenly. I was in a musical performing one weekend and I fell down sick and went in for some bloodwork and talked to my doctor. And I was actually starting to feel a little bit better but my white blood cell count was off the charts. So they rushed me to the hospital."
Cazin started treatment the next day and soon found out he needed a bone marrow transplant.
"I just really tried to keep a positive attitude when I was waiting for my match," Cazin said. "I went through a re-induction phase of chemo so I was pretty much blasted with chemo and went into remission and while I was waiting for my match, I was able to do an immunotherapy."
Thankfully he found a match. He underwent radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy in preparation for the transplant and eventually lost his hair. The transplant was a success.
Darlene Bennett also helped sign up students for the Be the Match bone marrow registry at Saint Mary's College. She's married to Randy Bennett, coach of the high-ranked Saint Mary's College men's basketball team.
The Be the Match Registry helps people who need bone marrow donors because of blood cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma or blood disorders like sickle cell disease.
During every drive where she volunteers, Bennett thinks about her little brother.
Derek Darby was 3 years old when he was diagnosed with leukemia. He needed a bone marrow transplant.
"I actually was a match," Bennett said. "However, he had to be put in remission before the transplant would actually happen. And he didn't survive."
Derek passed away at the age of 6.
"He was a cute little feisty thing and very, very brave," Bennett said. "Always did so well with every treatment and such. And he had decided he wanted to be a doctor because of being in the hospital all the time. It's tough. He should have been a little boy playing outside and having a great time and enjoying school and he was going under treatments and just not the life that any kid should have. No child should suffer like that."
Through her work, Bennett hopes she can help save someone else's life.
Cazin is now lead ambassador for his campus Be the Match club and will celebrate five years of being cancer free in June. He hopes to meet the donor who saved his life.
"Having the opportunity to meet him is just something I get so emotional even thinking about," Cazin said.
"He gave the gift of life so there's really no way we can thank him enough for what he's done for me and my family."
A patient's likelihood of finding a matching donor on the Be The Match Registry is estimated to range from 29-79%, depending on ethnic background, according to Be the Match.
People of color have a harder time finding a match because there are fewer people of color on the registry.
Be the Match is working to change that.
You can register online or by texting KGO to 61474.