No matter where she is, 11-year-old Shannon Tavarez is never far from the spotlight.
She’s performed on Broadway, as the young lion cub Nala in Disney’s “The Lion King.”
And she’s determined to get back on stage.
In April, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. But that hasn’t stopped her from singing to friends, family and even for the nurses she sees throughout her many hospital visits.
“Singing just takes me to a whole [other] place,” Tavarez said. “I just feel the song so much that it just takes me away…I just love to do it.”
Her mother, Odiney Brown, said she still gets goosebumps when her she hears her daughter sing.
“It just brings a certain emotion to you, it’s hard to describe,” Brown said. “It’s hard to believe [the diagnosis], even now. [But] just seeing her strength really makes me feel like, ‘ok, we can get through this.’”
Shannon’s best chance for survival is a bone marrow transplant, but because blacks are underrepresented in the national donor registry, nearly 85 percent don’t find matches after six months of searching.
Shannon’s fellow “Lion King” cast members have partnered with DKMS, the world’s largest marrow donor center, to hold a series of drives this month to help her find a donor match.
“Our communities especially, African-American and Latinos, suffer the most,” said, Aletha Maybank, a New York City pediatrician. ”[These communities are dying the most from cancer because many times [they] don’t come forward and donate blood or marrow—and then we don’t if there’s match at all.”
One recent donor drive held at New York City’s Minksoff Theater attracted nearly 800 new registrants—a clear sign Shannon’s story is leading to positive change.
“We want to change the numbers,” said Alvin Crawford, an ensemble “Lion King” cast member. ”[DKMS] has given us these really depressing statistics about representation in the registries—but Shannon can help us turn things around.”
Registering to become a bone marrow donor requires only a cheek swab, a procedure which takes little to no time.
With so much support around her, Shannon can’t help but think what’s next in her journey.
“I tell my mom I can’t wait [until] this is all over with,” Tavarez said. ”[Then] I can go back to playing young Nala and being on stage. I’ll definitely be a new person when this is all over.”