5 November 2019
In December 2003, I was 18 and collapsed in my bathtub and was rushed to a hospital. I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). Luckily for me, my selfless brother Duncan was my donor. We were a 98.9% match. If it wasn't for him, I doubt I would be here. I'm one of the very fortunate ones that had a family donor.
To treat my ALL, I had chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Then I mistakenly had 1 week without chemo and became very ill and ended up in an intensive care unit. I couldn't taste, I was bed-bound and couldn’t even walk. I had to learn how to eat and breathe as well. A lot has happened!
I had my stem cell transplant from my brother the day before my birthday in July 2004. Sadly, I did have GvHD (graft vs host disease), which gave me blisters in my mouth and cracking lips. The long term effects are osteoporosis in my knees from a high dosage of steroids, fatigue and my eyes are always watering.
Running through sand
My recovery journey has been a very slow one. Running feels like going through sand – my knees aren't as strong due to the osteoporosis and I'm always tired! And my mouth is still healing. I was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome which is very similar to a stroke back in 2013. So everything I went through with my leukaemia recovery I had to do again, learning to talk, walk and breathe all by myself.
Feeling better at last
The good news? Well, I celebrated my 15th post-transplant anniversary this July. I spent it with my family and feel it’s a huge accomplishment. Now I'm feeling great! I feel like I'm invincible. People tell me that I've got a glow about me. I won’t let my setbacks determine my mood.
My relationship with my brother is getting better and stronger as the days go on. I love him so much I could burst! He's such an amazing person.
Looking to the future
My milestones are going back to college and doing an ICT course which I passed. I didn't think I'd ever return to college and start my life again as my friends were well ahead of me by then. I did a beauty therapist course and passed with merit and then did my travel agency and travel and tourism levels 2 and 3 and passed with merits and distinctions. Five years out of remission was a great feeling. Ten years was fun. I'm still buzzing from the excitement and I look to the future with great optimism.
I spend my time with my nephew Dante, my brother's son who is 6 months old. We share a special bond. We share the same blood.
What would you do?
Imagine if your little sister or brother or someone very dear to you needed help – like, lifesaving help. I'm sure you would do all you can to assist them? Imagine now if the help you needed was limited. How would you feel? What would you do?
It's the same thing with donating your blood stem cells. You would be helping people in your immediate family or even a stranger.
Our community isn't as united as it once was. Why does the BAME community fall under the minority category when there's so many of us? We are the least likely to donate…why?! The BAME communities need to come together.
The process doesn't take long, you swab the inside of your cheeks, send them off together with your contact details. You might, and I say might get a call if you’re matched with someone. In exchange for a few hours of donating your blood stem cells, you could potentially be someone’s saving grace. You could be someone’s hero, their last chance. We all need to fight for our families and friends. We only have each other. Don't be part of the problem. Be part of the change.
Let's unite. Let's save lives.