In 2012, Steve had a stem cell transplant to treat his myeloma. Three years later, to celebrate World Marrow Donor Day, he had a chance to meet his lifesaving donor, Tom.
In today’s blog, Steve tells us the entire amazing story.
It began around Christmas, back in 2010.
I was working in Derbyshire, as a secondary school headteacher. I had a wife and two beautiful daughters. Life was pretty normal!
I’d just gone skiing in France – and I came back feeling tired. Lots of fatigue, aching ribs and back. I thought I must have cracked a rib or had a muscle injury or something – I certainly didn’t imagine anything could be seriously wrong.
Then, one day, I collapsed. And before I knew it, I was in hospital, where my doctors told me I had kidney failure. My body was producing too much calcium, because I had a form of blood cancer – myeloma.
Talking to my family about it was the hardest part. My youngest daughter was taking her finals at university, and my oldest was travelling in Australia. It was incredibly tough, telling her what had happened over the phone; she was Googling myeloma and crying at the same time.
My stem cell transplant
My doctors gave me a drug trial, which was partly successful in reducing the cancer, and then an autologous stem cell transplant (a transplant using my own cells), but that didn’t succeed.
They said I might only have 12 months to live. But I had one chance; a stem cell transplant from a stranger.
My consultant put me in touch with Anthony Nolan, and they found me a 10/10 match. It was fantastic news!
In the summer of 2012, I had my transplant – but initially, it didn’t take hold. I had three ‘top-ups’ of stem cells, but my condition was getting worse all the time. I assumed that was it; I was going to die before I even had a chance to be a granddad.
My miracle donor
Then, six months later, something changed. My body started fighting back, and the stem cells started taking hold. I contracted Graft versus Host Disease – which manifested in a series of rashes. And within three or four months, I was almost completely recovered.
By December 2013, I was in remission.
I didn’t know anything about my donor, apart from the fact that he was a man in his 20s. I always thought that when I found out who he was, I would take him out for a slap-up meal and a few pints!
I sent him an anonymous card, and then began to exchange emails with him. It turned out that my stem cell donor’s name was Tom, and we had a lot in common; he was a mountain biker, just like me. (I did have a bit of a joke with him that I was worried that he’d turn out to be a Manchester United supporter!)
We met for the first time in September 2015, to celebrate World Marrow Donor Day. Until then he was just a bag of blood – it was incredible to be able to put a face to my stem cells! More than that, it was a chance for me to express my gratitude. . He put himself out for a stranger and he had no idea who that person was, and for that I am extremely thankful.
Why your support matters
Tom is one of a kind. But he’s also just part of something that’s much, much bigger. I’ve started volunteering with Anthony Nolan’s R&Be programme myself since my transplant, giving talks about donation at schools – and one of the young people I helped to sign up has gone on to be a stem cell donor!
The more people who support Anthony Nolan’s work, the better the chances of giving someone extra time with their family – and when you have blood cancer, that’s what you really want.