Multiracial health issues Part 2

Fifteen years ago, I was at a party in a typically dark club. Which is why it surprised me when a woman, maybe five years older than me and my same complexion, walked across the room and said, "If I had freckles like yours, I'd be unstoppable."

It was weird. I was surprised because:
  1. I used to forget that I have freckles (the past tense is deliberate and will lead to my point)
  2. I certainly didn't think they could be seen from far away, in the dark
  3. This woman also had freckles; they were big drops of molasses on her cafe au lait skin
These days, I see women with freckles like I used to have - the kind that I could forget I had - and I'm a little envious because one of the "health" issues that has come with being mixed is that I have melasma.

Melasma is hyper-pigmentation of the skin on the face. It is most common with women of color. It often shows up when women are pregnant - hence its nickname "the mask of pregnancy." This is so common, in fact, that when I met up with a male friend of mine who hadn't seen me in a few years, the second thing he said was, "Serene, are you pregnant?" I had acquired the same facial freckling as his pregnant wife. The only upside to melasma, and this is a stretch, is that it tends to be symmetrical. So, giant freckle blob one cheek equals giant freckle blob on the other.

My blobs are above my lips, above my eye brows and on my cheek bones. That's a lot of blobbing. I can no longer forget that I have freckles because the blobs are extremely sensitive. Even 15 minutes in the sun, without sunblock, can turn them into coffee stains, swiftly spreading across my face.

I worry about the blobs because both my mom and her mom had skin cancer. I have seen multiple dermatologists. The derms run their fingers across the blobs and tell me that, so far, I'm ok. They suggest creams and retinols. They insist on sunblock and recommend hats. They do not recommend lasers or lights that White women use to beam away this problem because my naturally tan skin could respond by scarring. That would be even worse.

The best treatment would have been knowing 25 years ago that, as a biracial woman, I was more likely to end up with melasma. If I had known, I like to think I would have been more diligent back when my freckles when cute. More sunblock and hats, less hormonal birth control, which can make melasma appear. Maybe I just would have appreciated what I had (or didn't have) 15 years ago, when that woman surprised me in the club.

Multiracial health issues Part 1

I used to work for a stem cell bank. Yep, we collected, stored and released the cells that are the root of the human blood and immune systems. It was cool because using stem cells to treat diseases works. Not just in the lab. Not just in Germany or China. Here and now, stem cells are saving lives. Like I said, cool.

But here's the thing, if you're mixed, like me, and you have a health issue that could be treated with stem cells, you're probably screwed. And by screwed, I mean, get your affairs in order because the odds of finding a match are slim. Unless, of course, you have full-blooded siblings who are your exact same mixture. Then, you're in the double-digit percentile of finding a match. Phew!

Without those potentially matching siblings, your odds go up and down, based on how common your mixture is. For example, if you're "mixed" German and Irish (I'm being nice; everyone's heritage is sacred, even if it's ordinary). In America, the banks have LOTS of German-Irish stem cells. It's another one of the upsides of being part of the White majority. Yay!

But, maybe you're mixture is Ugandan and Irish. Like I said, screwed. Because, really, think about it. How many Ugandan-Irish people have you met? If you're answer is more than one, please, tell me: Are you part of some secret enclave of Irish-Ugandans? Where is this Oz-like land? And where are you storing your babies' stem cells?

The solution, going forward, is for every expecting parent to save their future child's stem cells. Your little Norwegian-Egyptian baby's stem cells could save a life in the future. And, if they don't get to save a life, they might be able to regrow your baby's own damaged cartilage. Knowing that you have those stem cells stored could ease some of your concern when little Italian-Filipino Jimmy goes all Peekaboo Street while skiing (she tore her knee THREE times). Maybe his stem cells will help him recover faster and better. Cool!

But seriously, my main point is that mixed kids are more likely to die from leukemia because they can't find a match (I'm not siting a source because I don't feel like searching for the data). If they are part Black, they are more likely to have sickle cell anemia, which afflicts people of African descent more than Whites, and yet they are less likely to be find matching stem cells that could cure them.

So, please, save your babies' stem cells. Now that I no longer work for a private stem cell bank, I can publicly root for you to donate them via the National Marrow Donor Program (, if you don't want to pay the private storage fee.

And no, this blog post was not sponsored by anyone. I just got home from the gym and was thinking about mixed people health issues.