Familial Motivation: Behind Cindy Crawford’s Blood Cancer Advocacy
Advocacy After losing her brother to blood cancer, the legendary model strove to make a difference for other patients. Years later, she’s still passionately urging for bone marrow donor registration.
Cindy Crawford is a world-famous supermodel and entrepreneur, with a beauty product line and a home furnishings business. Despite her busy schedule, she makes time for another personal passion: advocating for blood cancer awareness and bone marrow donation, a commitment that started years ago.
“My younger brother Jeff was diagnosed with leukemia when he was only 2,” she says. “I was eight. Sadly, he passed away two years later, after chemotherapy and radiation therapy.”
Part of the family’s healing was to give back to others. Crawford’s mother encouraged her daughter and other family members to raise money for the Leukemia Society of America. Crawford has been raising money and awareness throughout her career, and is still involved with the American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, where Jeff was treated.
“I have seen how bone marrow transplant is a powerful and effective tool in the fight against blood cancers,” says Crawford, underscoring that not every person who needs a bone marrow transplant has a match from a family member. “The more people who register for bone marrow donation, the more chances some of these patients have for a match.”
Impact and honor
While Jeff’s death was always tough on Crawford, it wasn’t until she had her own family (she has two children with her restaurateur husband, Rande Gerber) that she realized the impact of a child’s death.
"Every three minutes, someone in the United States is diagnosed with blood cancer, such as leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma."
“When I became a mother myself, I began to understand what that must have been like for my parents,” she says, explaining she has always imagined her brother as “a rocket booster” for her life.
“He was so brave and courageous in his fight against leukemia and I channeled his energy into the things I was trying to conquer,” Crawford says. “Being able to be involved in helping fight blood cancers is a way for me to honor him.”
Donors make the difference
Every three minutes, someone in the United States is diagnosed with blood cancer, such as leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma. Even more staggering: every 10 minutes, someone dies from one of those respective cancers.
“Joining the bone marrow donor registry is the first big way to help,” says Katharina Harf, the co-founder of Delete Blood Cancer DKMS, the world’s largest network of donor centers. Crawford’s advocacy includes working with Delete Blood Cancer, which has registered nearly six million donors and provided over 53,000 patients with a second chance at life.
Every year, nearly 14,000 people rely on the national registry and groups like Delete Blood Cancer for life-saving bone marrow matches to treat blood cancers, as well as illnesses like sickle cell anemia and aplasic anemia.
“Every new person on registry brings hope to patients and increases their chances of finding a matching donor,” says Harf, explaining that registering is as simple as swabbing a would-be donor’s cheek. “It gives you the potential to do something so powerful—a chance to save someone’s life.”
Still, not enough people have registered, making it difficult for those in need to find a match. “The world simply needs more bone marrow donors,” says Harf. In addition to donating, individuals and groups can inspire others to donate or host and volunteer at donor drives.
“Raising awareness is another great way to help,” says Harf. “The fact is, many people don’t know about the crucial need for more donors, or how bone marrow donation really works. When we get the chance to explain this, most people register on the spot.”