When Donna was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2009, she was worried about the impact on her young family. A decade later, Donna is back running around after her boys after having a lifesaving stem cell transplant in 2016. This is her story.
When I heard the word ‘cancer’, the first thing I thought was, ’What about my boys? What are they going to do without me?’
They were six and two years old at the time. I was 27. It was a big shock. The doctors told me I’d never be cured, but I could have treatment to reduce the non-Hodgkin lymphoma and live with it. Unfortunately, after each treatment, the cancer came back more aggressively. They said I needed a stem cell transplant from a matching donor, otherwise I would die.
From the worst words I’ve ever heard, to the best
I got on with things as best I could. I had my boys, I needed to be strong for them. Every now and then I’d break down but I’d go in a different room so they wouldn’t see it.
When they told me they’d found a donor, it was amazing. I cried. Not only was I thinking that this could be the end of me being unwell, but I was touched that a complete stranger would do this for me. They saved my life. Nine years after being told I’d never be cured, I’m in full remission!
I was really nervous on the day of my transplant, I have to admit. I knew it would make me feel more ill at first, but it was exciting as well. For the first time, I felt like I had my whole life ahead of me, where I wouldn’t have to worry, wondering if every pain meant the cancer had come back. Obviously in the back of my mind, there is still that little inkling, ‘What if…’ but I’m going to enjoy my life.
To go from, ’I’m sorry, you’ll never be cured,’ to, ’You are cured.’ – those were the best words I’ve ever heard in my life.
The stem cell transplant changed all our lives
Life is absolutely fantastic now. I’ve never felt this good. I just feel like a completely different person. I couldn’t work for nine years because the treatment had a bad effect on me. When I got to a point where I was healthy enough to work again, the blooming thing came back. Now, I’m back at work and I was promoted earlier this year!
The biggest thing for me though is my family. I didn’t really think of myself when I was diagnosed, I thought of my family, how they would cope with this. My boys were so young when I was first diagnosed. My youngest didn’t remember a time when I was well and with my oldest, I went from being an active mum doing everything with him, to being able to do hardly anything. So, not only has the transplant changed my life, it’s changed my boys’ lives, my husband’s, all my family’s really.
Thanks to the transplant, I’m still here. I’m going to be here for my boys. I’ll get to see them grow up, go to college, get married, have kids. For a long time, I didn’t think I would be here for any of that.
We went away to Somerset last year. We hadn’t had a holiday in such a long time, and it was wonderful. I was able to run around the beach with my boys and do ‘mum things’ again. I can just live my life and be me, be Donna, be Mummy.
To anyone going through this
I’ve seen family members go through cancer. I always used to think, ‘I don’t know if I could be that strong if it happened to me,’ but when you get that diagnosis, you do get the strength from somewhere. I had such fantastic, supportive family and friends. That helped a lot.
My advice to anyone going through this is: keep your chin up, hope that things will be okay, and enjoy the life you’ve got – don’t let cancer ruin your life. A transplant does make you feel rough. I felt like I was dying at one point and it was hard being in isolation and away from my boys – but it was worth it to spend the rest of my life with them.
Everyone should get the chance that I’ve had
Someone in our family had the same cancer as me and he didn’t even make it to the transplant, sadly. He’s not with us anymore. So, even though I’ve had cancer three times, I know I’m one of the lucky ones.
Everyone should get the chance that I’ve had – to find a match, to have a transplant. Cancer is a horrible thing and together we can hopefully stop many more people dying and missing out on seeing their families grow up, or their families having to live life without them. It could happen to anyone. I never thought I’d be woken up one morning and told I have cancer. You think it won’t happen to you, but unfortunately none of us have a say.
I’ve started fundraising for Anthony Nolan and I’ll tell anyone: join the register, donate money. It saves lives! Nine years ago, I didn’t think I would still be here but here I am, and I’m cured. Knowing that I’ve got my whole life ahead of me is just amazing. I’m so, so grateful to Anthony Nolan and that stranger who saved my life. I hope one day I get to thank him.