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A Profile of Hope: Seun's Story

As a 2014 Olympic hopeful and lymphoma survivor, I don't know which is more challenging: training for the 2014 Winter Games or beating cancer.

In June 2009, just days after graduating from Yale Law School, I was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma and stem-cell leukemia. Instead of an Olympic training regimen for the skeleton -- an 80 mph headfirst plunge down a mile-long ice chute -- I began an equally grueling cycle of high dose chemotherapy during a seven-week hospital stay at Memorial Sloan-Kettering.

Although chemotherapy bought me time, I needed a stem cell transplant to save my life. The likelihood of a match is highest among persons of similar racial backgrounds, but only about 515,000 potential donors – 8 percent of the total registry -- are African-Americans. As a result, 83 percent of African-American patients like me cannot find a match.

As the weeks dragged past, the reality set in that my fate lay entirely in the hands of a complete stranger. My Ivy-league credentials or athletic prowess could not save my life, only the altruism of an anonymous donor.

My attitude underwent a radical shift over the course of the following months, as I held donor drive after drive. I no longer held myself aloof in a crowded subway car or on the busy sidewalks of Manhattan. Instead, I would peer intently at every passing face and wonder, "Could that be the person who saves my life?"

Eventually, after six months, a match did turn up for a cord blood transplant. It felt like winning the biggest lottery of my life. Today, I am almost three years in remission and have helped to recruit over 10,000 people to the donor registry. I have also launched the first bone marrow donor registry in Nigeria and am now building the first umbilical cord blood bank in Africa, which I hope will help make it easier for others to find a match when their life depends on it.

I owe my second chance at life to an anonymous donor whom I can never repay. My battle with lymphoma and leukemia hammered home a valuable lesson: we are all in this together. Cancer respects no racial, national or socio-economic barriers. To overcome, we must unite.

After overcoming cancer, I decided to resume training to become the first Nigerian athlete in history to compete at the Winter Olympics. So in 2014, when I carry the Nigerian flag into the Olympic opening ceremonies, I will do so as a proud member of a global community of lymphoma/leukemia survivors and activists.

To submit your own story of hope, please contact Sam Rogers at srogers@lymphoma.org.