Elite athlete, musician recount struggles with leukemia

Posted: Friday, November 4, 2011 10:00 am | Updated: 11:00 am, Fri Nov 4, 2011.
By MATTHEW MARTIN Staff Reporter

Students packed Fowler Hall Thursday night to learn more about how to spread awareness of leukemia from the personal accounts of an Olympic hopeful and his documentary filmmaker.

The Cancer Culture and Community colloquium covered the stories of Michael Brecker, a jazz icon, and Seun Adebiyi, a Winter Olympics hopeful, and their battles with leukemia.

The Purdue Jazz Band performed a tribute to Michael Brecker’s music. Video from student groups supporting leukemia awareness were shown, including clips from the film “More to Live For,” a documentary about bone marrow transplants. A reception and bone marrow donation registration followed.

Noah Hutton, the director of “More to Live For,” spoke of his friendship with Brecker as he was growing up and about when he learned Brecker had leukemia. Hutton recalled Brecker looking around the world to try to find a match.
“I watched with his family as he was unable to find a match – unable to save his life,” Hutton said.

Hutton discussed how easy it is to register to donate bone marrow to those with leukemia. He said that all it takes is a mouth swab to put someone into the international registry.

Irwin Weiser, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said 867 people registered for the bone marrow program on campus today.

Weiser said that every year, patients go without treatment because they, like Becker, are without a match. He said more people should register to save more lives around the world.

”If you have more people on the registry, more people will find a match and another life will be saved,” Hutton said.
Hutton said that only 25 to 30 percent of people have a bone marrow match in their families and only 4 in 10 people ever find a match.

“This disease is an awareness issue,” Hutton said.

Bone marrow transfusions can cure more than leukemia. More than 70 diseases can be prevented with bone marrow transfusions.

Adebiyi spoke of battling cancer while he was training to be on the skeleton team for the Winter Olympics. He said he felt transformed from his battle with cancer.

“It’s an honor to be here. It’s more than an honor; it’s a blessing,” Adebiyi said.

Adebiyi discussed how he felt isolated by his cancer but ultimately decided he wanted to raise awareness of leukemia for other cancer patients.

“Everyone in some way has been touched by cancer – and that is a tragedy,” Adebiyi said.

Adebiyi would not have been able to pursue his Olympic dreams if not for the eventual blood match found in a baby’s umbilical cord. If the parents had not learned they could donate the cord, Adebiyi would not be alive today. He can now pursue a dream of being the first Nigerian Winter Olympian on the skeleton team, but he still plans to raise awareness of leukemia.

“It’s not what we do for ourselves that make our lives count,” he said. “It’s what we do for others.”