BETA

Visiting teacher saw need, filled it

TUCSON, ARIZ.

Phyllis and Kelly Roberts were married on May 26, in the Mesa Arizona Temple. They each brought four children to the union. She moved from her home in Tuscon, Ariz., to join her husband in New Mexico.

Debbie Weitzell, KGUN9 news reporter Rikki Mitchell and Karen Breckon pose during a donor drive held Sept. 29 at the Tucson West Stake center. Sister Weitzell and Sister Breckon organized the drive, and Ms. Mitchell reported on the drive for KGUN9.
Debbie Weitzell, KGUN9 news reporter Rikki Mitchell and Karen Breckon pose during a donor drive held Sept. 29 at the Tucson West Stake center. Sister Weitzell and Sister Breckon organized the drive, and Ms. Mitchell reported on the drive for KGUN9. Photo: Photo by Allison Esplin

Twenty-four days after her marriage, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and told to begin treatment in Arizona immediately.

She moved in with her sister who lives in Tuscon so she could have better access to treatment, and her husband visits when he can.

She recently began her third of four 28-day treatments to keep the cancer in remission. By the time the fourth cycle completes, she will need to have a donor in place.

When Sister Roberts returned to Arizona, her former visiting teacher Karen Breckon reached out to see how she could help.

Potential donors swab their cheeks during a donor drive on Sept. 29 at the Tucson West Stake center. Karen Breckon of the Tucson West Stake organized the drive in an attempt to find a stem cell match for Phyllis Roberts, a stake member who suffers from Leukemia.
Potential donors swab their cheeks during a donor drive on Sept. 29 at the Tucson West Stake center. Karen Breckon of the Tucson West Stake organized the drive in an attempt to find a stem cell match for Phyllis Roberts, a stake member who suffers from Leukemia. Photo: Photo by Allison Esplin

She found out Sister Roberts needed a stem cell donor. After a little research, Sister Breckon realized the process to test for donor compatability takes fewer than 15 minutes, from filling out the forms to getting a sample from a cheek swab. Once a match is found, the donation is similarly simple: Unlike leukemia in children that requires bone marrow, the donor for an adult only needs to go through a one-time process similar to plasma donation to remove stem cells.

Sister Breckon organized a drive to attract potential donors in the area. She spread the word throughout the wards and stakes in the area, posted it on Facebook, Twitter and emailed everyone in her address book. Stephanie Ashcraft, Tucson Arizona West Stake assistant public affairs director over media, reached out to local media outlets and got Phyllis' story on TV and in the newspaper.

The drive, held Sept. 29, was a success — 189 people completed mouth swabs before those administering the tests ran out of kits. They gave fliers to those who could not be tested on site and encouraged them to register online, receive materials to do their own cheek swab and mail it back in. Each cheek swab kit costs roughly $100 to process, so those who were not physically able to donate could still help by giving to Be The Match, run by the National Marrow Donor Program.

There are more than 9.5 million people on the registry and one out of every 540 will go on to donate. Sister Roberts said while she hopes to be matched with a donor, the drive and push for awareness are not only about her: The more people who register, the greater the likelihood of connecting other patients with potential donors.

She said Sister Breckon's efforts are remarkable because she had been released as Sister Roberts' visiting teacher. She simply saw a need and filled it.

Karen Breckon, donor drive organizer, helps a participant with paperwork. Sister Breckon organized the drive in an attempt to find a stem cell match for Phyllis Roberts, a stake member who suffers from Leukemia.
Karen Breckon, donor drive organizer, helps a participant with paperwork. Sister Breckon organized the drive in an attempt to find a stem cell match for Phyllis Roberts, a stake member who suffers from Leukemia. Photo: Photo by Allison Esplin

"I think she's amazing," Phyllis said of Karen. "To her, there was never a release. She just picked it back up. It's well above and beyond the call of just your regular visiting teaching type stuff."

Sister Breckon expressed gratitude for all the help she received with promoting and executing the drive.

"I didn't do this alone. It's everyone coming together. It's the marvelous organization of the Church that God gave us. I truly am so thankful for that," Sister Breckon said. She added, "God has helped me along the way."

As an explanation as to why she has done so much for Phyllis Roberts, Sister Breckon's voice choked with emotion as she explained that she has had many wonderful visiting teachers. She said she is hopeful that her friend, Sister Roberts, will be able to find a match.

"I know God can do anything," she said. "We pray. We fast. We trust."

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