Camila de la Llata, 22, was ready to embark on her senior year of college.
The newly leased apartment she would be sharing with classmates was ready to go, and in just a week she would be moving back to Fullerton to begin her school year.
Until her life changed completely.
A week before returning to Cal State Fullerton, Camila was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a type of cancer that starts in cells that would normally develop into different types of cells, according to the American Cancer Society.
Camila was diagnosed in August when she went to the hospital for something else. At the hospital, she underwent some tests that detailed her white blood count.
Camila had her blood drawn once before, which allowed the hospital to compare her current white blood count with her past count. Her first test showed a normal count, while the second test showed her count was off the charts. This raised an alarm for doctors and resulted in a diagnosis, said her mother Robin de la Llata.
“She was lucky she didn’t come in with a tumor or something more devastating, they diagnosed her very early because they happened to have her white blood count from before and it was normal,” said Robin.
Camila has a genetic marker, FLT-3, which indicates that chemotherapy is not a viable treatment for the disease because she will relapse.
As a result, she is in need of a bone marrow transplant.
One of the easiest ways to get a genetic match is through a chromosomal match, that is, through a brother or sister, because there is a 25 percent chance that a sibling is a genetic match.
Camila is an only child, so she is left searching for an unrelated bone marrow donor through a donor match program.
Since donors are matched based on genetics and not blood type, race plays a key role in finding a match.
Camila is half Caucasian and half Mexican and needs to find a donor with the same genetic design.
“It’s hard to find biracial matches, because only 3 percent of Latinos are registered in the United States,” Robin said.
Because there are not a lot of biracial donors registered, the National Bone Marrow Donor Program has created an expedited bank on Camila’s behalf to try and attract biracial donors. Camila needs to find a 10/10 or 9/10 genetic match in order to survive.
“They sped up the process from three months to one month and that might allow Camila to have enough time for these (donors) to be wprocessed and then find a match,” Robin said.
Robin said doctors have offered other alternatives to the bone marrow transplant, but none have the same success rates that a bone marrow transplant would have.
“A bone marrow transplant is the most successful, because Camila is only 22 they want to try and save her life,” Robin said. “So far we haven’t found a match.”
Camila has begun chemotherapy at Stanford Hospital and Clinics in Paloo Alto, Calif. A donor must be found in the next couple of weeks for Camila to receive this type of transplant.
“We really don’t have a lot of time, the doctors want the decision on what type of transplant we’re going to do by the next chemotherapy cycle,” Robin said. “The next chemotherapy cycle starts in two weeks. The next two weeks are critical.”
Registering for the bone marrow donor list can be done online. Those who register receive a kit in the mail with a swab.
“It’s a simple cheek swab… you get a kit in the mail and you rub your inner cheek and mail it back,” Robin said.
Robin said most people who register never get a call to donate because finding a match is so rare. About 35 percent of people that suffer from AML never find a genetic match.
Not all donors give bone marrow, Robin said, sometimes only a blood drop is needed.
“Camila needs the stem cells from her donor, she doesn’t need the bone marrow cells,” Robin said. “So all (the donor) has to do is go to their local hospital and get their blood drawn to save a life. And if we don’t find that person, she’ll die.”
The summer before she was diagnosed, Camila worked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in her hometown of Monterey, Calif., where she had been working for four consecutive summers.
“She really enjoyed the work,” Robin said.
She has also been dancing since middle school and has participated in various Latin dance and ballroom exhibitions. Camila also loves working with children and she has always loved working with kids and helping explain complicated things in a concrete way.
“She had the desire to learn a lot of the traditional dances of the country of Mexico and then from there learn other traditional dances of other countries, that’s just the special interest she’s cultivated,” Robin said. “Camila is a teacher and a performer.”
Camila was returning to CSUF in the fall to resume her studies in theatre education and directing.
Camila has acted, sang and choreographed many pieces throughout her college career.
“She’s a very hardworking young lady,” said Macarena Candarillas, a dance professor. “She has an excellent singing voice I used her in a show that I did which was a tribute to The Beatles… She’s very dedicated to her art, which is musical theatre.”
Candarillas worked closely with Camila while she was at CSUF. She said she was drawn to Camila because of her kind, friendly personality.
Camila said she found a strong support system at CSUF working with professors like Candarillas.
“Faculty take a personal interest in students and see them as individuals. We have a strong support system, from our teachers and classmates,” said Camila.
Candarillas has kept in touch with Camila since she was diagnosed and has been proactive in trying to find a donor. She said she wants to get the word out about Camila’s situation.
“It’s my mother instinct (to) realize that when you have a situation like this and you can actually help to do something about something’s life,” Candarillas said. “There was no option other than for me to do something about it when I found out what she had.”
Family, friends, professors and strangers have been working to raise funds and find a donor.
Robin said her daughter is surrounded by support and “community love.”
“It’s entirely touching. It’s moving, in the most plain sense of the word, to see how generous people are and how concerned and how eager they are to help,” Robin said.
However, Camila still needs to find a donor.
Robin said the more biracial donors that register, the bigger the registry becomes and the more lives will be saved.
“You may be the only person in the world who can save that person’s life,” Robin said. “A doctor is not enough in this case. A scientist is not enough in this case. It’s based on ten genetic markers.”
Camila encourages students to take time to sign up to be bone marrow donors.
“College life is hectic, but by setting aside a few minutes to apply online as a bone marrow donor, you can save a life —if not mine, someone else’s,” Camila said.
Biracial men and women ages 18-44 who are interested in seeing if they are a genetic match for Camila can visit BeTheMatchFoundation.org/goto/CamilasCure to register.