The Call

The phone rang on Friday afternoon. Typically, I missed the call and picked up my voicemail. Then fell off my chair.

It’s been less than a month since the email saying Anthony Nolan had processed my blood and have added me to their register with a special flag next to my name and at the time I thought “Aww, that’s nice!” In the meantime we’ve had our Relay, though; so I gave it little thought and did not really expect to hear anything.

Yet here I was; phone glued to my ear listening to those fateful words; “You’re a match”.

The world stopped.
My heart stopped.

The rest of the message faded into the background as my head swam with every emotion possible. I listened to the message again to make sure I wasn’t dreaming; then once more JUST to be sure.

 

Then the penny dropped. This is my chance to give back. I have been called upon to save a life like someone saved my dad’s life! Pride swelled in my chest and a grin spread across my face. I felt proud and honoured, a little smug (tiny pang of guilt crept in at that point – it’s not about me it’s about someone who needs help!)

Big smile!

This is me feeling happy!

Then I felt like I was wasting time; this wasn’t a real person on the phone this was a pre-recorded message. One I’d listened to three times already. I couldn’t afford to waste time; I had a life to save!

 

Quick as a flash I grabbed pencil and scribbled down the number in the message and returned the call straight away. As I was dialling I realised that despite this myriad of emotions, the message had only been received five minutes ago.  I could afford a deep breath; so indulged. It’s amazing how oxygen can revitalise you!

A touch calmer and a little less blue in the face, conversation seemed relatively straightforward with Rizwana, the lovely young lady with the northern accent who was expecting my call.

 

One thing that struck me was how much choice and control I appeared to have; I was able to veto the method of donation and the date too.

For those of you unaware, there are 3 ways to donate stem cells; the traditional way is extracting bone marrow from the lower hip (large needle, general anaesthetic, overnight stay in hospital); or the much simpler peripheral method of taking blood from one arm, running it through a machine to extract the relevant cells, and pumping it back into the other arm. 5 hours of being sat around chilling out. The third is donating an umbilical cord but as I’ve none of those to give we can instantly discard that idea… Obviously everyone would prefer the peripheral method as it’s less invasive and most donations are now done this way. But this patient’s medical team, for reasons unclear but I’m sure very valid and based on very technical know-how, had specifically asked for bone marrow.

I was okay with this. I was genuinely surprised when I was given the option to request otherwise. I had signed up to the register agreeing to go through this if required but here I was being offered an easy way out? Tempting; so tempting…

No. I did agree to give marrow if required. The patient’s medical team didn’t request this for fun did they? There is somebody out there in a hospital needing my bone marrow. Not just my stem cells; the marrow itself. That’s a commitment I cannot back out of.

It was at this point that I realised that this thought process was part of my internal monologue but an eccentric ramble at a rather bemused Rizwana. Blushing, (luckily it was a phone call and she couldn’t see!) I quickly apologised and tried to get back on track.

 

Then to the date: my other half’s 30th birthday. “Hmm,” said I; “not that it’s a problem but…”

“Not a problem!” Rizwana quickly replied. “The second choice date is a week later. Is that convenient?” Luckily it was so we quickly agreed on that.

 

It was only then it even dawned on me that my employer may want to know I was committing to time off. “Shall I let you call your boss?” (yes I’m rapidly realising that I vocalise more than I’m aware). I frantically called my boss and left a garbled, panicked message on his answerphone and anxiously waited for a response. I have to give them their dues; my employers have been incredibly supportive and accommodating throughout this process; starting with an unreserved “yes of course” even before I gave them the date. So that set I called Rizwana back to firm up the details.

That call didn’t last too long; just to confirm that she would send over all the details via email and post the following week; and provisionally arranged a date to go for a medical a month before.

 

So that gave me a nice boost for the weekend and a bit of time to sit back and appreciate that I was about to change someone’s life.  It brought back memories of hearing the news that the Anthony Nolan Trust had found a match for my dad and how happy we all were that someone was able to help him.

Relay for Life Harrow survivors, including my dad!

Relay for Life Harrow survivors, including my dad!

Special? Me??

A couple of months ago I received a call from the Anthony Nolan trust. I leapt to my feet – my heart in my mouth – as a nice young man called David explained that I had been identified as having a special tissue type that required further testing.

I always knew I was special. Few people believed me but now it’s official; I have bodily fluids to prove it!

Though I have to admit I was slightly disappointed (as illogical as that is) that I had not been called upon to help someone at that time. It not being too long since I had signed up and I was still very passionate about sharing my stem cells with anyone who would have them!

But further testing is good – I thought – that will still help! David explained to me that further testing would help scientists to understand different types of tissue and to customise treatments to an individual’s needs. This is known as personalised medicine and is one of the big things in cancer treatment at the moment.

The further testing involved giving a blood sample at my local GP’s surgery, and sending it back in the post.

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I had no problem with that in principle. People give blood all the time; blood donation services save countless lives across the world. No big deal. Though I had to admit I was a touch nervous. Again; it’s completely daft but I’d never given blood before and I wasn’t sure how much they’d take or how it would affect me. I just needed to block it from my mind so I didn’t dwell on it.

 

However it turned out I had no time to dwell on it or to be nervous as I had to squeeze the blood test in between work, packing for my holiday, fundraising commitments and job interviews! Before I knew it I was sat in the nurse’s office looking at the ceiling to avoid the sight of the needle and it was all over so quickly that it seemed like such a blur!

 

A second bump to my self esteem and sense of making a difference; safe in the knowledge I was part of something special. That made me happy and and I went on with my little life with little more thought about things.

It took a couple of months to hear anything else, until an email a couple of weeks ago confirming my blood had been analysed and noted on the register officially. Even then in the whirlwind of getting ready for Relay 2013 I barely gave it any thought; let alone consider I’d actually be called upon!

Giving Back: a Personal Journey of Stem Cell Donation

At Relay for Life, we’re very proud of the contribution we make towards bringing forward the day when all cancers are cured. We shout about how we are the front line in the battle against a disease that takes so much.

I’m fully behind this cause, and have been delighted and honoured to be part of this fight; but wanted to share with you a journey I am undertaking to help the fight in a different, more personal way. Over the next few weeks I’ll be blogging about my progress in hopes of expanding understanding and awareness of the ongoing fight against blood cancer.

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In early 2011 our family received the news that my dad had leukaemia. It was a difficult time for us all but, thanks to the incredible work of Cancer Research UK, the dedication of his phenomenal medical team, and a stem cell donor found through the Anthony Nolan register, we are lucky enough to have him with us today. That’s why I was eager to sign up to the Anthony Nolan register and give someone a greater chance of recovery.

 

For those of you who don’t know, Anthony Nolan is a pioneering charity that saves the lives of people with blood cancer who need a blood stem cell, or bone marrow transplant. In 1974, Anthony Nolan’s mother, Shirley, set up the world’s first bone marrow register to match donors with people who desperately needed a transplant. Now, every day, they help two people in need of a lifesaving transplant by using their register to find remarkable donors who have matching stem cells, or bone marrow.

 

Signing up is easy. There’s a brief application form on the website, they send you a little vile for you to spit into (yes I know you think it’s gross but they need your DNA to make a match!) then you post it back. Simple! More information can be found at www.anthonynolan.org.

 

So that was how I began my journey. It was so simple; such a small thing to do. But I had a sense of accomplishment and pride that I was on the register; part of the reserve team ready to be called upon if required.

I Relay For 2013

People take part in Relay For Life for many different reasons – because of particular loved ones, to raise awareness or to raise money to find a cure.  This year we wanted to capture these to share why people are so passionate about Relay.