November 29, 2020

Webster student supports daughter diagnosed with leukemia by starting ‘Team Dre’ awareness campaign

DreNeria Westbrook poses with actress Minnie Driver at Barnes-Jewish Siteman Cancer Center. Driver is wearing a “Team Dre” t-shirt. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY JULLIETTE DOUGLAS

Webster graduate student Julliette Douglas felt angry and frustrated when her 18-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia.

In March 2012, DreNeria “Dre” Westbrook experienced spells where she couldn’t walk or eat. During a Sunday dinner, she couldn’t eat the plate in front of her. One day, her mother cooked tacos and she said she felt like she was going to faint every time she got up to add toppings to her taco. That day she went to the hospital. Doctors informed her that her white and red blood counts were down.

Westbrook was officially diagnosed with Natural Killer Cell Leukemia at St. Anthony’s Hospital on March 30. She has since been transferred to Barnes-Jewish Siteman Cancer Center.

“She kept complaining of a sore throat and a sore neck and she kept saying everything was achy in her muscles and in her joints,” Douglas said. “You don’t pay attention to it if she’s just complaining. It was during the seasons she would catch a cold.”

Natural Killer (NK) Cell Leukemia is a rare form of leukemia that is typically diagnosed in adolescents and young adults. The most common symptoms are weight loss, fatigue and low blood counts.

After doctors told Westbrook she had leukemia, Douglas began searching for a match. Because Westbrook and her siblings don’t have the same mother and father, they aren’t a match. It was going to be more difficult to find a match. Westbrook said she and her mom started doing research on NK leukemia. Douglas studies healthcare administration at Webster.

Douglas came up with the “Team Dre” campaign. “Team Dre” has teamed up with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to spread awareness and educate communities. The campaign has also teamed with Be the Match to sponsor a bone marrow drive. The campaign’s main goal is to seek donations and contributions. Peaceful Place Community Development Corporation is a not-for-profit organization that sponsors “Team Dre”.

“I’ve just been passing out information, getting t-shirts made, going around educating communities, doing community engagements, interviewing for radio stations, attending health fairs,” Douglas said. “I’m just finding something that will listen to me and help me get my story out.”

Douglas discovered not many black people signed up for the bone marrow registry. She held a bone marrow drive in an attempt to get more African-Americans to join. Douglas said she has worked to get the message out to as many people as she can.

“I’ve been banging down Channel 4, Channel 5 and Channel 2 doors,” Douglas said. “I’ve been trying to get on 104.1. I’ve sent out a request for an initiative with Barnes Jewish (BJC) to try to get something going to educate African-Americans. So I’m doing one thing after another trying to get the awareness out in the community.”

Westbrook is not able to go outside to help spread the word because of her weakened immune system from the chemotherapy. If she walks outside, she is susceptible to illnesses.

Throughout this whole ordeal, Westbrook has managed to remain positive. Even though she has days when she is feeling down, she says she is happy.

“I can’t really be sad about it (her leukemia),” Westbrook said. “I’m not going to sit here and cry every single day of my life about something like this.”

The bone marrow drive will take place on Sunday, May 20 at the Prince of Peace Missionary Baptist Church. The event will run from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. People can also donate at Be The Match’s website.

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