‘Be the match’: Leukemia patient fighting for others’ lives while fighting for her own

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Doctors say there are about 20 million people in the world-wide registry willing to donate their stem cells. It takes just 10 minutes to do so and potentially help someone dying from cancer.

One patient at the KU Health System is pushing others to save lives.

The past four weeks, Lanie McCoy has seen a lot walking the hospital halls. The 25-year-old’s diagnosis set her on the path to be the voice inspiring others to “be the match.”

“There’s people out there who don’t have matches,” Lanie said.

McCoy was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in Austin, Texas, one month ago.

“There are a lot of really high highs and a lot of really low lows,” Hal McCoy said.

Within a week, she and Hal, her then boyfriend, moved home to Kansas City for treatment — closer to family and Dr. Joseph McGuirk. He’s the director of the Blood Cancer and Stem Cell Transplant Program at the University of Kansas Cancer Center.

Hal and Lanie McCoy

“Her determination and spirit and having what we call the eye of the tiger is instrumental in a patient’s well-being,” McGuirk said.

Lanie said what helps her keep a positive attitude are cards and pictures from family, friends and even KU basketball Head Coach Bill Self.

“I like KU basketball a lot,” Lanie said.

“The Jayhawks are behind us,” Hal agreed.

But Hal gave her the greatest gift the day they arrived at the hospital.

“Your rings are beautiful,” McGuirk said. “So at least we know he has good taste!”

Little did Lanie know, Hal was planning to propose in June. This just sped up the process.

“Hal proposed to me in the hospital, which I was actually shocked,” Lanie admitted.

Then 48 hours later, in the place where they faced the fight of their lives, Hal and Lanie became the McCoys and got married.

“I feel like it was just pure, true love,” Lanie said with a big smile on her face.

Hal and Lanie McCoy

“It was by far the best wedding that I’ve ever been to,” Lanie’s sister Anna said, laughing. “We joke about how it was so much better than my wedding.”

“Really!” Lanie’s other sister Ellie agreed.

They said you couldn’t replicate the love in the room that day.

“Wish the reason we did it was a little bit different,” Ellie said.

“But it made it that much more special,” Anna said.

“I’ve never felt more proud or more scared,” Hal said.

Scared because Lanie still needed a match. Thankfully, hers was close by.

“When I found out my sister was a match, it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulder. I felt like I had a life to live now,” Lanie said.

“The majority of patients who have stem cell transplants for leukemia in the U.S. undergo transplant use an unrelated donor,” McGuirk said.

Doctors said there was only a 25% chance Lanie would match with a family member.

“The 72 hours from when we got confirmation that Lanie needed a transplant to when I was notified I was a full match were the worst 72 hours of my life,” Ellie said.

That’s why Lanie has made it her mission to find everyone a match — and that means urging others to take a swab and get registered.

“I hope that everyone can have a match,” Lanie said with tears in her eyes, “I want to save thousands of lives.”

Although timing is fluid with Lanie’s situation, her transplant is scheduled for mid-June.

If you would like to register to become a donor, below are a few helpful links:

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