Ten years ago, Kathryn Cartwright was told she had acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Since then she had two stem cell transplants – one from her sister and one from an Anthony Nolan donor, and experienced extensive GvHD plus other medical complications.
On 12 February, Kathryn will celebrate ’10 years of being alive’ by hosting the star-studded comedy night ‘Still Standing’ at London’s Union Chapel, in aid of Anthony Nolan. Tickets are £15 and are available now from Union Chapel: https://goo.gl/qwFXHp
Marking my milestones
2017 marked ten years since I was diagnosed with leukaemia.
Once a person has stayed alive for five years after cancer, they are considered to be in remission, and it’s a pretty big deal. For this milestone, in 2012, I think I went out for dinner. When I reached ten years, I thought it merited something a bit bigger, so it felt fitting to use my celebration to raise funds for a charity who are one of the reasons I am still here.
My Anthony Nolan journey
Anthony Nolan found my second stem cell donor. Without them and him, my transplant would not have gone the same way and I would almost certainly not be here. Not only did they find me a donor, but they have also been a continued source of support after my transplants.
In 2016, their Patient Services team offered me the opportunity to become a Young Ambassador for them, a role in which I am able to use my experience to benefit other people who will receive transplants in the future. I tell my story to help champion the vision of Anthony Nolan, as well as raise awareness of their work to other young people, decision makers and the media.
I am not ashamed to say that sometimes my recovery and medical complications have made life very difficult. It is no secret that people with chronic illnesses can struggle with depression and prior to volunteering with Anthony Nolan, I was beginning to feel like despite doing my best to raise awareness, I was not having much impact. And I could not see a purpose for the life I had; I did not feel the world would notice if I stopped. But now I do.
Since I started volunteering with Anthony Nolan, I feel like I have been able to make more of a difference. Especially when I have been with them to parliament to speak to people who can really change how stem cell transplant patients are treated, and what support and care they have access to. Not only did Anthony Nolan give me a second chance at life, but they also gave me a reason to live.
Laughter is the best medicine
I have been a fan of comedy for as long as I can remember and I think it is a truth universally acknowledged that laughter is the best medicine, second only perhaps to chemotherapy. Throughout the last decade, when able to, I have immersed myself in as much comedy as possible. Whether it’s TV panel shows, radio, podcasts, or live gigs; I’m in.
I particularly recall one period of incarceration in hospital when I was sharing a bay with people I found completely intolerable, one of the ways I stayed sane was to listen to the podcast of Josh Widdicombe’s Xfm radio show. It felt like hanging out with friends and now through fortunate connections, I can call them that.
This meant that when I came up with the idea to raise money with a comedy gig, the performers were a no-brainer. Nish, Suzi, Sara and Josh are some of the most genuine, lovely and most importantly hilarious people I know, and I could not be more grateful to them for agreeing to be a part of the big Still Standing night.
Changing who I am
I’d say it’s almost impossible to confront your own mortality and not be changed by it. Most immediately, I learned to appreciate my family. Nothing says I love you like a mother who will get up to turn you over in the night when you’ve lost all your muscle mass, a sister who will donate her own stem cells to try to save your life. And a father who continues to work to support a household alone and spend every minute he can with you too.
I love the NHS and will fight for it for as long as I can because without it, my family would be bankrupt and I might not be here. Despite the hammering it has taken over the past ten years, everyone in it continues to strive to do the very best they can for the patients who need it. I know that my doctors and nurses actually care about me as an individual, and not just because of my fascinating freaky body!
Celebrating what I have
I am lucky to be loved and have people to love. I have enough bodily function to get by, and to enjoy the things in life I like; I know what is important, and who will be with me until the end of the line. For the most part I am comfortable, and I am happy. It is not our circumstances that make us what we are, but our choices.
I choose to celebrate the life that I have, rather than mourn for what I do not, and for one night come together with friends and strangers to laugh until our sides get sore, and raise money for a cause worth fighting for.
If you’d like to read more about Kathryn’s transplant journey, you can read her personal blog here.