Kentucky couple to advocate for cancer-support group's federal funding

meads@herald-leader.comJuly 17, 2013 

Mike Simms of Jamestown, a survivor of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, wore a mask outside The James Cancer Center at Ohio State University four weeks after he received a blood cell transplant in 2010. It was his first trip outside since the transplant, and he wore a mask because his immune system was still weakened. The transplant cured his cancer and saved his life. On Thursday he will go to Washington, D.C., to talk to politicians about funding for the registry that helped him find his donor.

PHOTO PROVIDED

A Kentucky couple will travel to Washington, D.C., on Thursday to urge the continuation of funding for an organization that works to save lives.

Mike Simms, a cancer survivor from Jamestown, and his wife, Jana Simms, are advocates for Be The Match, a Minneapolis-based organization that helps cancer patients find donors of bone marrow and blood and provides emotional and mental support. With other survivors and caregivers from across the country, they will work to convince politicians including Kentucky U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul that Be The Match is worth as much federal money as possible.

In the past, Be The Match has received $35 million in federal aid, but the group fears that tightening budgets could lead to a 8.2 percent cut in funding.

Mike Simms said he hopes that the story of the transplant that saved his life will help illustrate the organization's importance.

"We're there really to put a face on the statistics," he said.

In 2006, Simms found out that he had non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer that starts in white blood cells. After a year and a half of chemotherapy and radiation, it became clear that the cancer would keep returning, worse each time, Simms said.

He said he had to choose between looking for a different plan of action and continuing on the same course.

"It was an easy choice," he said.

The search began for a blood cell donor, but like many people who need marrow and blood transplants, Simms did not have a relative who would be a match and could donate, Simms said.

Through the Be The Match registry, which has 10.5 million potential donors, Simms found a match in Germany. He says he is now cured.

If funding for Be the Match is cut, 20,000 fewer names will be added to the donor registry, said Chad Ramsey, director of legislative relations at Be The Match said. Simms said he fears that this could keep some patients from finding a cure in time.

Mike and Jana Simms said they're certain he would not be alive today if it were not for Be the Match.

Through Be The Match, the couple works with families and patients affected by blood cancers. Information about disease and treatment can overwhelm a recently diagnosed patient, Jana Simms said.

"I was pretty ignorant about it. You do a lot of research." Mike Simms said. "We help connect the dots."

The Simmses also help families who are going through a transplant process, which is extremely taxing, Mike Simms said.

"Basically, if your nose itches, you can't even scratch it," Mike Simms said. "You can't even go out to eat."

Also, a transplant can affect memory and cognitive speed, which can be frustrating, Mike Simms said.

"You have to accept that you will not get back to the way you were before," Simms said.

Jana Simms will go to Washington to present the caregiver's side of the story.

Be The Match provides counselors and peer help for caregivers and patients, Jana Simms said.

"You need someone to take care of the caregiver," Mike Simms said.

Morgan Eads: (859) 231-3335. Twitter: @heraldleader.

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