Metro Atlanta man urgently needs help in fight against rare cancer

Multiple blood stem cell registration drives held in his honor this weekend
Metro Atlanta Man urgently needs help in fight against rare cancer
Published: Oct. 1, 2023 at 9:14 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 2, 2023 at 4:56 AM EDT
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CARTERSVILLE, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Zach Thompson, born and raised in Bartow County, needs your help in his battle with cancer. Thompson said doctors told him a stem cell transplant would be his only cure.

It’s the reason why DKMS, held a Stem Cell Donor Drive in Cartersville, Cedartown, and Rome on Sunday.

Thompson was diagnosed with Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma in 2022.

“I have full skin involvement,” Thompson said. “It’s in my blood and it’s also in my lymph nodes,” he said. “November 2022, I started chemo and that was for my lymph nodes. I went through January, and it worked very well for my lymph nodes. It cleared up a lot of things. I’m currently doing three other treatments. One to kill the cancer cells in my blood, one to help with my skin, and one to boost my immune system to help fight off the cancer cells,” Thompson said.

Thompson said for years, he didn’t know what was wrong.

“I started having symptoms about three, three in a half years ago,” Thompson said. “Like I said just dry skin, itchy skin. Got misdiagnosis with psoriasis or eczema,” Thompson said.

The 34-year-old said he was once a very active person but is now unable to do any of the things he used to do, including working.

“I was very active. I worked at a fire protection company and liked that job,” Thompson said. “I worked out, CrossFit which I absolutely loved. I’m very active with my friends. Loved to go kayaking. Liked to go hunting too,” he said. “None of that I can do anymore. With this disease for some reason, I cannot tolerate hit, so I can’t be outside and with the treatments that I’m doing, how much more susceptible to UV light, so I can’t be out in the sun,” Thompson said.

Currently, Thompson has relocated to Houston, Texas with his wife for treatments. He came back to Metro Atlanta this weekend for the donor drive.

“We are having a donor drive and that’s where people 18-55 will come, do three swabs to see if they are a match to me,” Thompson said. ”Right now, I don’t have a match,” he said.

“I have been looking in a donor pool of 29 million people nationally, but it’s very hard to get that perfect match and the more people that are aware, the better the odds are. So even if I don’t get a match, my bigger picture is to bring awareness so that other people can get that match,” Thompson said.

Raegan Bell, Donor Recruiter with DKMS said donations are critical right now.

“Zach is one of 17,000 Americans diagnosed every year with a blood cancer or blood disease. So, most of these patients are going to need a stem cell or a bone marrow transplant in order to survive,” Bell said. “It’s very uncommon to find a match in your family. Only about 30 percent of patients find a match within their own families. So, 70 percent of patients have to go to a complete stranger to find their lifesaving donation,” Bell said.

Bell said next year, DKMS would have been doing this work for 20 years in the U.S.

“After 20 years of working all this time to find people for the registry, only two percent of all Americans are swabbed. It’s a very low number, of that two percent of Americans 76 percent is Caucasian, so somebody who is a minority looking for a match, is having a hard time finding one,” Bell said. “If Zac is Caucasian, and can’t find a match, the rest of us have an even harder time. So, it’s imperative that everybody signs up 18 to 55 in general good health. A quick swab of your cheek and you’re in the registry hopefully to save a life,” she said.

Bell said once found to be a match, there are two ways to donate, which she said depends on the patient’s needs. She said 85 percent of the time, donors will be asked to donate stem cells, which Bell said is similar to donating plasma or platelets. Bell said 15 percent of the time donors will be asked to donate bone marrow, which is typically for a younger patient.

“I donated bone marrow personally in 2014 to a newborn baby girl. In July she turned nine,” Bell said. “I feel like I won the lottery when I was able to donate and save a life,” she said.

Thompson said he doesn’t know what the future holds.

“It has affected my day-to-day life in a pretty extreme way,” Thompson said. “It is emotionally draining just the thought of what is this going to look like 10 years down the road. How am I going to be affected by it, physically is also very stressful. I get tired very easily. I can get infections. It’s not easy and it’s not fun,” he said.

He said he is hopeful that your help will give him a chance to live a normal life again.

“Right now, my oncologist said, since I’m young and otherwise healthy, that I should do well managing this disease, but if I want to have a better quality of life, then a transplant is the way to go,” Thompson said. “Even though this cancer isn’t horrible, itching is bad, but it’s not the worst of the worst. I could manage, but I don’t want to,” he said.

“A simple one-minute swab and that’s it. That’s all you need to do,” Thompson said. “You can save a life literally you can, if you just get out there and do the swab,” he added.

“It takes about six minutes of your time and a quick swab of the inside of the inside of your cheek to join the national bone marrow registry,” Bell said.

Bell said there’s currently a virtual drive going on for Thompson right now. To learn more about Thompson and how you can jumpstart the process, visit