In 1978, Alan Corley was diagnosed with leukaemia aged five, and spent the next two years being treated at Westminster Children’s hospital – in the room right next door to Anthony Nolan. He shares his memories of that time, and how 40 years later, he’s taking on an incredible fundraising challenge.
I was one of the lucky ones
Anthony and I were in adjoining rooms – I was six at the time and he was eight. There was a glass window between us and during the day we would talk to each other and play cards through the glass. We only saw each other really, there was nobody else.
I had a painful time there, but I was one of the lucky ones. The second lot of treatment worked, and I was released as an outpatient. Sadly, during that time, Anthony passed away.
I wanted to do something to help
I remember Shirley, Anthony’s mum, doing her campaigning and we would all give her lots of support. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I realised how much work she had done. I saw something on Facebook about the charity ‘Anthony Nolan’ and I wanted to do something to help.
For a charity so close to my heart
Just before Christmas, my brother in law decided to give me a push to do something and we talked about Everest. I’ve reserved a place to climb there next year, and this year I’m getting ready by doing lots of climbing and walking around the UK.
This is the first time I’ve fundraised, and it feels special because the charity is so close to my heart, having knowing Anthony.
Planning the challenge
We’re doing three big loops in the Brecon Beacons in May, over three days. I’ve put things on Facebook and I’ve had posters printed off for work – lots of people are keen to sponsor me so that’s good.
My wife and I have already done a three-day trip to the Peak District. We’ve been doing an awful lot of walking with our dogs – I’m enjoying it, I’m really getting hooked on hiking. We’re talking about doing Ben Nevis next! Then I’m hoping to get to a point where I can do Everest next April.
It’s brought back so many memories
There are times I’ve been talking about this to people and I get emotional because it’s brought back so many memories, mostly good ones.
It was exactly 40 years ago this Pancake Day [5 March 2019] when my dad came down to the ward and cooked pancakes. He ended up making pancakes for the whole ward, including the nurses!
I read Shirley Nolan’s book which is called ‘A Kiss Through Glass’ – when I saw that title I felt really emotional. I knew exactly what it meant. In the evening, when the parents used to come down to our isolation ward to say goodnight, they would go to the door and give us a kiss through the glass.
I don’t remember a lot of the bad things – as a child, you don’t really realise what’s going on. My father stayed with me for over six months while I was on the ward and he got to know other parents and the other children, including Shirley.
It must have been very draining for the parents. At that time, only one in four children survived. He told me that he would see children playing on the ward and they would be gone the next day.
It feels amazing to know that more people survive today but there are still those who, like Anthony, can’t find a match. So I want to do everything I can to help.
Getting the word out
I found out that it takes £40 to get someone on the register, and I’ve set myself a target of raising £1,000. That’s just for now, as I’m going to keep doing this. I’ve been inspired to keep going and keep raising awareness, because it’s such a good cause.
My eldest daughter has joined the stem cell register and she’s really excited. She’s been talking to lots of people about it at university. Often people have only vaguely heard of it. When I tell them about the work Anthony Nolan does, their reaction is always, ‘Oh that’s amazing!’
I’m really trying to promote this within my workplace too – I work for Royal Mail. It would raise so much awareness, not just amongst the 150,000 plus employees, but through their families and the publicity as well. And all the money they raise would go to Anthony Nolan too. It would mean so much to me.
I just want to get the word out to tell people about this amazing charity and the work that it does. People should donate and join the register if they can – they could save a life!
If you’re inspired by Alan’s lifesaving support, then head to anthonynolan.org/8ways to see how you can get involved too