In January 2015, Sarah found herself donating stem cells with Anthony Nolan to give a complete stranger the chance of life. In today’s blog, she tells us about her experiences of peripheral blood stem cell donation (PBSC):
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name’s Sarah Baxter, and I’m the mother of eight-year-old twin boys Dan and Joe. I work as a research and development project lead in Randox Laboratories, which is a global clinical diagnostics company based in Northern Ireland.
Between mummy duties and work, any free time I get is spent in my local gym – I am a bit fanatical when it comes to working out 🙂 I try to get at least one charity sporting event under my belt each year, and this year completed the Lurig Challenge run in aid of Granaghan Outreach Trust who were building a school for deaf children in Kenya.
When did you join the Anthony Nolan register?
This is a hard question! I think I joined at least ten years ago, at a registration event at the University of Ulster in Jordanstown. When I saw the event advertised I went along; it would never have occurred to me not to.
When did you hear that you were a match? How did it feel?
I first heard in late 2014 that I was a potential match. I got a call to my mobile from a strange UK number and passed it off as a random sales call. When I got the fifth call from the same number I eventually answered…
I was shocked, to be honest. I guess registering was one of those things you do, but don’t think about again. The stats and chances of being a match aren’t that high, so I didn’t really think I’d ever get the call. Especially so long after registering.
I was delighted to get the news, but then so worried that I wouldn’t be a match when all the tests were completed. I was a bag of nerves for weeks thinking about the patient, willing them on, thinking about their family, hoping I could help them.
Did you talk to your friends and family about it? Were they supportive, or concerned?
I spoke to my mum, dad, and sisters. They were a bit worried about the process, if it would have any side effects or implications for me. I had read through all of the information and armed myself with the answers before talking to them, so luckily could answer any questions they had straight away, and they were all really supportive.
I also spoke to my sons and explained what was happening. They were really proud of me, and that was a massive boost.
Talk us through the donation process. How did it go? How did it make you feel?
I first gave blood at my local GP surgery, Anthony Nolan sent a pack with instructions on what was required, and all I had to do was book an appointment with the nurse and post the samples back within a certain timeframe.
Within a few weeks I got word back that my sample was a match, so then Amy from Anthony Nolan organised my trip to London for a medical check and further blood tests. This included weight (you need to be above 50kg) and then a physical examination and questionnaire; the nurse was very thorough and made me realise that my health was just as important to them as that of the patient.
It’s important to remember that the donation will never put you in any sort of risk, physical, mental or otherwise. My medical was performed at the same place the donation happened in, the Marie Curie Centre in London.
Being there, in the waiting room, with other sufferers of cancer made me feel so humbled and pretty sad. My aunt had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer that month and being there was a bit of a double edged sword, but she was so proud of me. I saw a young family with a brand new baby and the mum was undergoing treatment; I knew I was doing the right thing.
I got news back really quickly; I was a match, and a donation was required. The Anthony Nolan nurses visited my home to administer the GCSF injections; this was done in the evenings and didn’t affect my working day. I travelled to London with my sister and donated in the apheresis ward across two days.
The nurses were great, the procedure was fine; apart from flu-like symptoms and fatigue, I had no other problems. Anthony Nolan can cover all expenses including any travel, accommodation, time off work, etc.
At the time, the most important thing for me was to produce the required number of cells for the patient. That was my only thought. Anthony Nolan sent a volunteer to visit me on the first day and he was fantastic, answered any questions I had, and really helped me feel how much I was making a difference.
Did you have any contact with your recipient afterwards? If not, is there anything you’d like to say to them?
Not yet. It’s been nine months so I recently contacted Anthony Nolan for an update as I would like to send a card. I just hope it worked.
What would you say to someone who’s thinking about joining the donor register?
Do it. Don’t think about it. Think about the what ifs: what if it was you, your family, your friends? What if there was someone out there who could help them so easily, and hadn’t?
It’s a needle in your arm, or a minor operation. Not a death sentence. To offer hope for a family or a patient is amazing. It helps in so many ways, and you can visualise all of them just by putting yourself in their position.