When doctors gave Janet Liang two months to live, she took matters into her own hands.
The UCLA alumna released a YouTube video in January, begging viewers to join the National Bone Marrow Registry in hopes of finding a match to put her leukemia to rest once and for all.
“I don’t have much time,” she said in the video, between tears. “I realize that I’m afraid of dying because of what I’m leaving behind.”
The video bounced around the Internet before it was posted to Reddit.com. Within a day, it got 1,000 hits.
Today, the original video has more than 310,000 views. Liang’s “Team Janet” Facebook support page has 8,900 likes. Entertainers such as Far East Movement and Wong Fu Productions have also furthered Liang’s cause by posting support videos that have garnered thousands of views.
“We wouldn’t have been able to reach as many people without social media,” said Emily Wang, a UCLA alumna who has been Liang’s friend since college and now serves as her Team Janet publicity coordinator.
Social media has become more important in finding marrow matches, said Madhuri Mistry, community relations manager for Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches.
“It just kind of catches on like wildfire,” Mistry said. “People are able to respond quickly, get information quickly, and it has helped create awareness in the blink of an eye.”
Liang’s specific social media outreach has translated into tangible results. Thirty-seven drives have been sponsored in her name, hosted in places as local as her alma mater and as far away as UC Davis.
Home testing kits were major request items on the Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches website, and its office catered to numerous walk-ins, who came after hearing Liang’s story.
“She’s one of the patients garnering the most support,” Mistry said. “Janet’s situation is unique in that the younger community has woken up, and they want to do just about everything they can.”
The 25-year-old was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2009 while she was still a UCLA student. She went into remission in June 2010 and remained cancer free for one and a half years.
In December, she relapsed.
Her friends started Team Janet when she was first diagnosed, but the group faded out when she got well. Two months ago, Team Janet reignited with a single mentality ““ “We’re going to find her a match.”
In total, Team Janet has logged a rough estimate of about 8,000 registered donors. But Liang’s friends are not satisfied. Their goal is 20,000.
“Janet has about a 1 in 20,000 chance of finding a match,” said Billy Wong, one of Liang’s friends from UCLA and executive director of Team Janet. “But we’re just trying to get the word out. Janet is all about making this not just about herself. Hopefully we’ll help a lot of people out.”
Liang’s situation is compounded by the hard facts about the marrow registry ““ just 7 percent of donors are Asian. To find a match, donors and recipients must often be the same ethnicity since it increases the chance of having similar DNA, said Sara Arroyo, Hispanic outreach and recruitment coordinator at Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches and one of Liang’s college friends.
Pledges of help and support have come from across the globe, including China, the Philippines, the Netherlands and Canada.
Jacky Choi, 24, from Melbourne, Australia was inspired to help Liang after seeing her video. He recorded the entire process of registering as a bone marrow and blood donor and posted the video on YouTube to show others how it worked. He’s already enlisted friends and musicians to record videos in support of Liang and is planning a marrow drive at the end of the month.
UCLA’s Circle K community service club hosted a drive last week after Wong, a former club member, told them Liang’s story.
The drive was held during the club’s regular meeting and yielded about 40 new registrants.
“We felt we made a difference,” said Jennifer Lai, a third-year political science student and Circle K’s publications editor. “It gave me a clearer sense of how much of a difference (donation) makes.”
In the meantime, Liang is resting at home in the Bay Area, after completing an intensive chemotherapy session at a local hospital. She’ll return in a few weeks for a second round.
“She’s a really optimistic person,” Wong said. “We’ve got a lot of people behind her, and we’re just trying to build our momentum.”