DENVER (KDVR) — Leukemia is a type of blood cancer that can affect the bone marrow, and for so many, survival depends on finding a bone marrow donor.
According to BeTheMatch.org, a national marrow donor program, the odds are very long for finding a donor if you’re Black, Asian or Latino. This is just one of the reasons why Colorado’s own Bob Falkenberg is preparing to ride in a series of bike tours.
“I’m actually riding stronger now than I ever have in my entire life,” Falkenberg said.
Falkenberg’s life was in limbo just 13 years ago after he had an aggressive form of leukemia and underwent a bone marrow stem cell transplant. That transplant came from a donor through the Be the Match program.
“The treatment process was really rough,” Falkenberg said. “Months of in-patient chemo, followed by a massive dose of chemo and whole-body radiation and then the transplant. The recovery period afterwards is really rough.”
Bringing attention to the bone marrow donor registry
But navigating rough terrain is a challenge he’s used to. This is why he started Tour de TC, a fundraising campaign where bikers ride on multiple tours throughout the country to help leukemia patients and their families and bring attention to the donor registry.
“I had 13 matches on the registry,” he said. “Because I’m white and European descent. If you’re Black, your chances of finding a donor on the registry are still only 29%. So we’re trying to recruit a lot more African-American, Hispanic, Asian donors because they’re underrepresented in the registry.”
A man who nearly lost it all is learning how to give everything his all.
“No matter what kind of adversity you’re confronted with, you can overcome it,” he said.
So far, 26 riders have signed up for these tours, including seven transplant doctors and five transplant survivors. They’ve already raised $30,000.
Some good news: Data from the national cancer institute shows survival rates for all types of leukemia is 65%. But surviving can be heavily dependent on those donors.
Falkenberg said he’s working on legislation to provide donor leave for up to 40 hours so that people can donate without losing their job. Falkenberg has Logged 16,000 riding miles on his bike since 2018, not including some trips before.