When Lana joined the register four years ago, she had no expectation that she would be one of the ‘lucky’ people who actually get to donate, although she kept hoping that she would be.
This year, Lana got that life-changing call and after donating, she says she would ‘recommend it to anyone.’ Here, she shares her donation journey.
I joined the register after my cousin shared a link on Facebook. When I read about stem cell donation on the Anthony Nolan website, I was so surprised at how simple it was.
Then I read all the stories from people it has helped, how it’s changed their lives and I thought that to be even a small part of that, by being on the register, would be great.
Four years later, I was lucky enough to get the call saying I was a potential match.
I’d put off joining the register in the past because I’d heard some of the myths about donating. I want to tell people exactly what it was like for me, step by step, and hopefully inspire them to sign up and feel prepared if they’re ever lucky enough to be a match themselves…
Finding out I was a potential match
I got a call at work from a number I didn’t recognise – I ignored it, typically, thinking it will just be a sales thing. They left a voicemail and it was someone from Anthony Nolan saying I was a potential match! I called back straight away.
I was certain from the first minute of that conversation that it was something I definitely wanted to do. I felt excited and happy and a little bit special – it’s kind of like winning a prize! At the same time, I felt really emotional because I thought, there’s someone out there in the world right now who needs this.
Confirming I was a match
They told me they needed to do a blood test to make sure I was definitely the best match. I could either go to my GP or they could send someone to me, which was great.
The day after that, I got a helpful pack in the post with a medical form to fill out and vials which had to be filled with blood. I booked an appointment at my local GP the next day, and then posted them back – slight awkward moment at the post office when they asked me about the contents of the package!
Four weeks later, I got a letter to confirm I was a match and the very next day they called to ask if I would be willing to go ahead. I was absolutely over the moon, and of course I said ‘yes’.
They told me that the patient was a little boy somewhere in the world, and that because of his needs, the stem cells would need to be taken directly from my bone marrow in my hip under general anaesthetic, which didn’t bother me – I love a nap!
There aren’t many people who have to do it this way – around 1 in 10 – and even if you do, it’s not a lot to go through to hopefully save someone’s life.
I was determined to see it through and do the best I could – I even started eating loads of vegetables!
The medical check
Anthony Nolan arranged a medical check-up and booked all the travel. The nurse and consultant were really nice, and the consultant was actually the man who would be doing my procedure, so it was great to be able to chat to him. He answered all my questions about what he’d be doing, what I could expect to feel. He was so calm and professional, I felt like ‘this guy knows what he’s doing!’
Medical passed, the donation was booked in for January. What a great way to start the year!
Booking time off work
My employers couldn’t have been more supportive. I booked 10 days off which they let me take as ‘compassionate leave’, because they knew the impact of what I was doing. They even sent a message round to everyone about my donation – a bit embarrassing for me, but amazing for raising awareness.
I’ve had so many messages of support from colleagues. Lots of them have said they’d never heard of it before but would now sign up – so that’s amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better workplace.
The night before
Anthony Nolan arranged all the travel to London and I checked into the hospital the night before. I had my own room which was really nice, and they’d put my boyfriend up in a hotel 10 minutes away which was great because it meant I had someone with me. I had some dinner and a few chats with the nurses.
I didn’t get much sleep – not because I was scared or worried, I was excited. I felt really lucky that I was getting the chance to help someone.
In the morning, my boyfriend came to visit, and we were chatting and hanging out. Then the nurses came to get me for the procedure. I had a chat with the consultant again and everyone in the team introduced themselves and said what their role would be, which I thought was so nice. It made me feel so comfortable.
I got put to sleep and woke up to a nurse smiling down at me. I felt a bit groggy, but I was in no pain at all. People had told me it didn’t hurt but you just think ‘oh you’re probably just saying that’.
When I woke up, my first question was ‘did you get everything you need?; – once they said yes, I just felt relaxed and this rush of happiness and a real feeling of achievement. I thought of my stem cells going off to the little boy.
The nurse told me that the procedure had gone really well and took me to my room to rest, so that’s what I did for the next few hours.
The next few days
I was allowed to go home the next day. They gave me a prescription for codeine and paracetamol, but I found that after a few days I didn’t need the stronger stuff. I did feel a bit sore, but it was like when you sleep a bit funny. You know that feeling – it’s not a pain, but you’re aware of it?
I’d been low in iron before and I was feeling quite tired and breathless, so I went to the doctors and it turned out I’m anaemic – I’m feeling much better now, but I did take an extra week off work which was signed off by a doctor. My advice is just to listen to your body and do what feels right.
The whole process was, at worst, a mild inconvenience for me for two weeks, which will hopefully give that little boy the rest of his life. Really, I just got to relax at home, in front of the telly with leftover Christmas chocolate!
I posted about it on social media and I had so many nice messages. There’s definitely been an outpouring of love and quite a few people have messaged to say they’ve signed up to the register, which makes you feel a lot better when you’re feeling a bit groggy.
Thinking about the impact of what I’ve done
For me, I think about the recipient every day and just wonder how he is. Even though you’ve never met them, you don’t know anything about them other than their age and their gender, you feel a unique tie to them. You want the best for them.
I did think about the fact that it might not work. There is a part of me that felt responsible and I wanted it to work so badly.
But then I thought, what if I was that person, or their parents, and there was someone out there in the world, who had done this to help? No matter what happens, I think I would have been comforted by the fact that someone was willing to try.
I thought about how they must have felt when they got the call to say they had found a match and that I was willing to go through with it. And no matter how I feel, what they would be going through would be much harder.
I think it would be a comfort to have been given a chance. To give a family hope is a really powerful thing. Even if they only got a few more months, that’s precious time that they can make memories. Whatever I went through is so worth it.
I’d love to do something else for Anthony Nolan – fundraising, encouraging people to join the register. I would tell anyone else to absolutely do it. You’ll never get a chance to make such a difference in someone else’s life. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’d do it 100 times if it could help someone.
The whole process is made really easy, everything is arranged for you and the people at Anthony Nolan were so friendly. Any question I had, anything I needed, they were there. They also came to visit me in the hospital which was so nice.
It’s been a life-changing experience and I think what Anthony Nolan do is amazing. If I can do it, you can do it too!
If Lana’s story has inspired you to sign up or help spread the word, head to anthonynolan.org/join to find out more.