Only two weeks before my 18th birthday, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. My symptoms were scarce and vague which meant when it came to my diagnosis, my cancer was at a stage so bad, the tumours inside my chest were huge. One was the size of a melon and the other a tennis ball. I’d gone to numerous GP visits to identify why I was feeling tired, why I had a persistent cough and why I had no appetite, but never did I or the GP think my symptoms meant cancer. In the end, the tumours in my chest had made me develop pneumonia, so that and a chest X-ray were the tipping points to finding out I had cancer.
I found this out right at the start of my final year of secondary school, so I had to drop out and put my A-levels on hold. During this time, I never felt sad or scared. I felt more angry and impatient. Believe it or not, I was just itching to get back to school. I made getting into university a goal and this is what I focused on throughout the two years of treatment.
A lucky match
Ten months later, things were difficult. I was having stronger chemotherapy and nothing was working.
Then, trial drugs were suggested and I went on to have antibody treatment, which worked! I was ecstatic with this news, however it wasn’t good enough. I needed a treatment which would ensure my cancer would stay away. What I needed was a new immune system and the answer to this was to have a stem cell transplant. I was scared of having a transplant, but like any other treatment I had already received, I knew this is what I had to do to go back to being ‘me’ again.
When looking for a donor, I was lucky to have had three siblings to choose from. My brother turned out to be a 100% match, which meant I went straight into the transplant process. I was in isolation for a month during my transplant. Things went fairly smoothly, but the way I felt throughout can only be described as a limp piece of lettuce. I felt very useless and unpleasant, but the cheese and crackers trolley always kept my spirits high.
Six months post-transplant, I went back to school. I got myself a private little room to work in and gained the qualifications I needed to get into university. One year post-transplant, I was heading off to Birmingham City University, feeling on top of the world. Slowly gaining back my confidence and strength, and excited and scared at the prospect of moving away from home. I was lucky to have had a 100% match from my brother and this is what has made me want to support the work which Anthony Nolan do. I want to make the anxious wait for those without a related match easier and shorter by signing as many people up to the stem cell register as possible.
The Great Orchestra Adventure campaign
I have created The Great Orchestra Adventure, as I want to raise awareness of the stem cell register and change people’s perceptions about being a stem cell donor. I aim to break the myth that it’s a scary or painful experience and inform people that being a donor is something to be proud of. It isn’t as daunting a commitment as some might think. The Great Orchestra Adventure targets orchestra members all over the UK to sign up to the stem cell register by using #savinglivesthroughmusic, and encourages orchestras to become partners of the campaign to help me continue my work of raising awareness of Anthony Nolan.