Dorothy and her donor, Mario
Dorothy was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2013 and was told a stem cell transplant was her best chance of survival. It wasn’t an easy journey but with incredible care and support, Dorothy had her second chance of life. She’s been able to see her daughters get married, welcome grandchildren, and has met her amazing donor. Here she shares her story.
When I was given the news that I had leukaemia, it’s difficult to put into words how I felt. The doctors told me what they were going to do and I just had to trust them. I tried to stay strong. There’s not really much choice. You just have to get on with it, don’t you?
They sent me home for the weekend before I started chemotherapy on the Monday. We had all our family round for dinner. Everybody was so supportive. My friend – who’s a hairdresser – cut all my hair off. It was all a bit surreal. Our daughters were fabulous. They were very positive and strong, even making jokes.
After the first course of chemotherapy, it was a waiting game to see if my blood counts would come back up. But we were told that a stem cell transplant was the only way forward.
Waiting for a match was daunting
They tested my brother but he wasn’t a match so we were waiting, and hoping, that Anthony Nolan would find a matching donor on the register.
One day, while I was having a platlet transfusion, Graeme was shown an email by my consultant. It said ’39-year-old German male, 10/10’. Getting that news… wow, it was just an adrenaline rush. You think, ’Everything is going to be okay, it’s actually happening.’
Recovery wasn’t a piece of cake, but the transplant worked
My transplant was on 11 December. Graeme was with me and we watched the stem cells as they were going in through my Hickman line. It was just incredible. You’re thinking, ’Is that it?’ but it was exciting. I felt like this could truly cure me.
Recovering after a transplant… it wasn’t a piece of cake, believe me. I did have some side effects and I had to go back into hospital. It was really tough but all the doctors and nurses were wonderful.
Then the doctor came in one day with the good news that there was no sign of the leukaemia – I was officially in remission!
Just before I’d gone back into hospital, we received a card from the donor – wondering how I was, hoping his ‘small’ gift would make a difference. He included a cardboard cut out of an angel and it said, ‘This angel will shelter you and I’m sure he’ll do it well.’ That blew us all away. That’s when we properly realised – this was a real person.
It was a long time before we wrote back because we wanted to be able to say I was getting better. Recovery was slow but steady. We’d nip to hospital a couple of times a week for my blood transfusions. I remember the day when they said, ‘You’re getting B positive today,’ which meant I was 100% donor. The transplant had worked!
How it feels to have your life back
Five years later and it’s great to be back to ‘normal’ life. It sounds ridiculous, but to be able to cook a meal, go in the garden, walk our labrador – all those little things. It’s just lovely to have your life back.
And of course, there are the big things too. I’ve seen my daughters get married and welcomed two wonderful grandchildren, with another on the way! I can look forward to the future again and plan things, whereas before we just didn’t know what was going to happen.
The surreal moment when we saw my donor for the first time
We shared a few anonymous letters with my donor, then started the process through Anthony Nolan to meet. We were out for lunch one day and received an email from Anthony Nolan which gave the name of the donor – Mario! – and said it was now up to us to make contact.
Meeting my lifesaver
We started exchanging emails and Mario said he was taking some time off work to cycle around Britain, and could he come and see us. Of course we said yes!
On the day he arrived in town, he sent us a text and we jumped in the car. We were waiting in the hotel bar and in he came. It was just lovely. He came over the next day and stayed with us for a few nights. We did a lot of family things, lots of sightseeing.
Last year he came back to see us with his wife and his daughter, and we had a big family celebration. This year we went to visit them over Easter for a week. We got to meet the rest of Mario’s family – it was wonderful.
Sharing our story to give other people hope
We want to share our story to give people hope. It was all so daunting at the time, and really tough to go through, but now when we go to hospital for my check-up twice a year, it’s more of a social visit. My consultant just wants to see family photos!
We are so grateful to everyone involved. The whole thing, we just find it incredible. I can’t speak highly enough of the doctors and nurses. They were just so caring.
Graeme shares things on social media to raise awareness. We’ve had this fantastic outcome and we want other people to have that chance.
There are lots of people who don’t find a match. It’s such an easy and painless thing to join the register and I just think, there can’t be anything more amazing that having the opportunity to save someone’s life. You might never get called, but you’re there just in case you’re the only person who could save someone – a lifesaver in waiting.