Hettie Maylam is running the Virgin Money London Marathon for Anthony Nolan in April. Here she tells her story – and why she’s running to support her dad Martin, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in 2012.
My dad’s leukaemia diagnosis
On April 1st 2012 our family was hit with a cruel surprise. Normally April Fool’s Day is something you can laugh about afterwards, but not this year – instead, we found out that my dad Martin had acute myeloid leukaemia. This was the first time anyone in the family had been affected by cancer so it came as a huge shock to us all.
Over the next few months we muddled through, taking each day as it came and just hoping for the best. Eventually we had the news we’d been hoping for – that my dad was in remission.
During his treatment my dad didn’t need a stem cell transplant but my sister signed up to the Anthony Nolan register anyway and in March 2015 she was found to be a match for a complete stranger. She was so happy that she could help someone in need.
In a weird turn of events, just a month later, we found out that my dad’s AML had relapsed and this time he would need a stem cell transplant to survive. It’s extremely unusual for a situation like this to occur where one person in a family donates stem cells to a stranger AND a member of the family needs a donation from a stranger too.
It was another shock to us all as since being told he was in remission my dad had been back working and living a healthy and normal lifestyle. We quickly became obsessed with finding a match. It was during that time that we heard about the Ireland sisters and their campaign to find a match for their father and so we decided to launch a campaign too – and with the help of the great press team at Anthony Nolan, we put together a press release to tell our story.
It was great when we found out that ITV Meridian and several local newspapers were going to run our story. While our main aim was to find a match for our dad we also realised just how important it was to get more people onto the donor register, for the sake of everyone in need of a transplant.
My dad’s stem cell transplant
Luckily a match was found for my dad and he received his transplant in November 2015. He is still recovering from the transplant as the process itself is not always successful and the body has to accept the foreign cells and learn to function normally again. I was amazed when we were told that my dad would have less of an immune system than a newborn child for over a year. It’s important to remember that the transplant is then followed by months and often years of recovery. It’s not a case of just having it and being back to normal again.
Why I’m running the London Marathon
It was around the time that my dad was going to hospital to prepare for his transplant that I decided to apply for a London Marathon place. I knew that I would have a great chance to raise more money for the charity with a cause so current and close to my heart.
It’s been amazing to see how generous people have been with my fundraising. I set up a Facebook page and have had donations from people I haven’t even seen or been in touch with since I was at secondary school. It’s so nice to know how caring people are. I’m also planning on doing a pub quiz closer to marathon day which will be a fun way to raise more. I just want to raise as much money as possible as I know how important the cause is.
I’ve always liked running but have never run a marathon – but I think I can do it! I’ve never had so many illnesses as since I started training, but when I’m struggling through a long run I tell myself to think about my dad and all the other people who are way worse off than me. The chemo cycles and pain that I’ve watched my dad go through over the years put my moaning at doing the marathon to shame!
So 2016 is my London marathon year and I’m doing it for my dad, for my family who have been through so much, for other blood cancer sufferers and survivors and for the charity that supports them all so well – Anthony Nolan.
I think I’m probably going to cry a lot when I cross that finish line!
Kirsty Low, Head of Events at Anthony Nolan, said: ‘By running the marathon Hettie is making a real difference to the lives of people with blood cancer. The money she raises will help pay for more people to join the donor register, meaning more chances of finding a match for people like her dad who need a transplant.’
You can sponsor Hettie on her JustGiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/givestemcells