Earlier this year, Lucy donated her stem cells to give a second chance of life to someone with blood cancer. She’s very kindly shared her story with us to bust the myths and encourage others to sign up.
I have the absolute pleasure of being able to call myself a stem cell donor.
I joined the Anthony Nolan register after speaking to a friend who had experienced the heart-wrenching effects of blood cancer in her family. Her father had been diagnosed with a rare type of blood cancer in the 1990s. In total, he received two bone marrow donations, several years between each other and for the most part, it gave him a considerable amount of time more with his family. Sadly he passed away in 2011.
The myths of stem cell donation
I am one of the fortunate few who are lucky enough to say cancer hasn’t been diagnosed in my family. Just with the statistics of people affected alone, I do feel quite conscious of the fact that it could be me or someone very close to me one day. That thought is frightening and so if I can do anything to help someone else in a position like this now, I will.
With that thought in mind, I have only actually been registered with Anthony Nolan for two years – so why didn’t I join up sooner? It’s because I thought to donate was very painful and therefore I didn’t really give it much more consideration than that. I believed it would take weeks out of my life and hurt a lot.
When I was talking to my friend about her father, she asked if I was registered. My first response to that was ‘doesn’t that really hurt?’ In reply, she explained that it didn’t and it’s a lot like giving blood, due to the procedure having changed significantly. (There is still a stigma that the donation is very invasive and hurts a lot but given today’s medical science, the donation is actually very donor-friendly.)
Trusting my friend and the information I read afterwards on the Anthony Nolan website, I signed up.
In the first half of this year, I received a very exciting phone call. I was a potential match for someone! Wow.
I was told, at this stage, that it was very early days and more tests would need to be taken. I was asked to go to my local medical centre and have a blood test which would be sent for diagnostics. It was a couple of weeks later when I received confirmation that I was the best match, and I was then asked to attend a medical assessment to make sure I was fit and healthy.
The medical assessment is great, it’s like a full body MOT and once that was completed, with the results in – Anthony Nolan literally arranged everything for me.
The next stage was the GCSF injections. The injections are given to make your body produce a lot more stem cells in readiness for the donation. You only have them for four/five days leading up to your donation and I had them administered by a nurse (at home and at work). To be honest, I did get a couple of minor side-effects such as pain in my back and hip but it was no worse than seriously over doing it at the gym!
My stem cell donation day
The day before my donation Anthony Nolan booked me a hotel nearby the clinic and I hopped on a train which had already been booked for me by them. It didn’t cost me anything and whilst my employer covered the cost of me being out of the office, for a couple of days, Anthony Nolan offered to cover any loss of earnings too.
On the day of the donation, I was met by a lovely nurse who took me through to quite possibly the comfiest bed I have ever had the pleasure to lie on! I knew the procedure would take four hours, so I kicked back and having been accompanied with a friend (who also had all of their expenses paid to join me), we gossiped the hours away whilst intermittently being offered tea, coffee, biscuits and lunch.
To donate you have a needle inserted into each arm. Once you have both needles inserted, a tube connecting the two continues to circulate your blood. Your blood goes through a machine, a sieve filters out the stem-cells and then the blood is immediately returned to you. Did it hurt? Not even a little bit. Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat.
My final verdict
If you’re wondering about whether to join up or not, I urge you to strongly consider it. To join is simple and easy. Not only this, but you really are giving someone the chance of having their second chance at life. It’s an incredible experience which, for me, has been very heart warming. For the last few months this total stranger has not been far from my mind. I have already sent them an anonymous card wishing them luck and maybe one day I’ll hear back from them.
Life becomes complacent and we are forever rushing from one thing to the next. So if you do have five minutes spare, join up, now.
Because if not you, then who will help? I finally got round to it and by doing so, I may have just directly saved someone’s life. You have the ability to give so much to someone by giving so little time and effort from you.
Inspired to sign up as a stem cell donor and give hope to people with blood cancer? You can register with us here.