Lights, camera, lifesaver

18 April 2019

Julie has many roles in life: a mother, journalist, broadcaster and now a lifesaver after donating her blood stem cells to a complete stranger to help give them a second chance at life.

In 2016 Julie took the first step and registered to become a lifesaver-in-waiting and was identified as a match over a year later.

Thank you Julie for helping someone’s fight against blood cancer and raising awareness and encouraging others to take action.

Receiving that important call

I think it’s one of the most bizarre and powerful phone calls I had ever received. I was at work and the phone went. It was DKMS telling me that I had been identified as a match for somebody who was currently fighting blood cancer or a disorder and was in need of a transplant.

It was a really emotional, shocking, intense, heart-stopping moment, because you discover that you could actually be someone’s lifeline. You’ve been put on notice that you could actually save a life by donating. Suddenly, there was a stranger out there that needed me to help save their life. There was this enormous feeling of responsibility and it’s such an extremely privileged feeling.

I had only been on the register for eight months before receiving the first call and it sounds bonkers but I just had a feeling I would get a call.

Making sure you are the best match

Once I received the phone call saying I was a potential match for someone, I had to go through a series of blood tests to determine whether my tissue type matched the patient’s.

At that point they decided that I was the best possible match. I had to go to the clinic to have a few more tests, talk to the people who are in charge about the donation and I got to see where it was all going to happen.

There’s quite a few tests involved, but nothing a hot chocolate can’t take care of.

There were a huge number of emotions attached to that for me, because I just really thought the entire time that somebody out there – it could be a mum, could be a dad, could be somebody’s child - really needed me to step up and offer this part of me, that’s going to help their immune system to fight.

Preparing for the donation

When the nurse came to my house before the donation to give me the G-CSF injections to boost my blood stem cells, my kids though it was absolutely hilarious.

They were really excited to see her give me the injections. They were jumping on the bed and saying “Can we do that again?” Although those injections can make you feel a little groggy for a couple of days, you pretty quickly recover.

On the D-Day

When I went into the clinic they sat me in a big chair and hooked me up to the apheresis machine, as I donated through the peripheral blood stem cell collection.

There is a line that goes in one arm that takes the blood out and sends it to a machine that separates the blood stem cells, which go into a bag, and my blood was returned to me through my other arm.

In my case they were a little worried that my blood pressure wouldn’t sustain in order to keep the blood going around, but it was completely painless. I was just sitting down with my feet up. I even had a little bit of a snooze.

It’s amazing to think that doing just that could save a life. I have two young children, so I haven’t sat down that long since before they were born!

Once I donated enough blood stem cells a special courier came to collect that little bag of magic – your blood stem cells – to deliver them to the person who needs them.

The idea is that they’ll get them on the same or following day is completely amazing!

It all hits home

Interestingly, next to me there was an older gentleman. I thought he was a blood stem cell donor, but I found out later when he came over to chat to me that he was having a treatment with his own stem cells.

He looked at me and said “If this doesn’t work for me I’m going to need to find a you.” I think that’s when it hits home that actually donating your stem cells is about giving people a chance to live and love another day.

I think it’s what everyone wants to do isn’t it? They want to walk the dog, feel the sun on their face, have a hot chocolate or a hug.

It’s all the really simple stuff that people are looking forward to doing with their loved ones and I think many people can relate, because I think every person has someone in their family who is dealing with a form of cancer.

The amazing thing about becoming a blood stem donor is that you get to become one of that that person’s team.

They’re not alone anymore. When your immune system is fighting blood cancer, or any kind of cancer, it must be such a lonely journey.

So when you get that phone call you actually become someone’s wingman or wingwoman, and they’re not alone anymore.

I didn’t know who I donated my blood stem cells too, that person is a stranger to me, but at the same time I feel like we’ll always have a lifelong bond.

How you can help?

If you’d like to register as a potential blood stem cell donor you can check your eligibility and sign up today.

Anyone aged between 17-55 and in general good health can go on standby as a potential lifesaver.

If you're not eligible or you're already registered, why not check the other ways to get involved in the fight against blood cancer or help us cover donor registration costs?