25 September 2019

Michael, registered with DKMS following his dad’s diagnosis of leukaemia in October 2017. Sadly, dad David passed away earlier this year. Michael decided to share his story during Blood Cancer Awareness Month to talk about taking on his dad’s unfinished fight with blood cancer, and his own mission to raise vital funds for DKMS. 

“In October 2017, dad started feeling unwell at work. This was followed by regular bouts of him being sick. At the time, there were a few bugs going around, so we all thought he had flu.

A few days later dad noticed a lump had appeared under his arm and it started growing very rapidly. He went to the doctor, and they said it might be cancer. They ordered him to go to Scarborough Hospital straight away. 

I remember it so vividly. Dad called me up and told me that the doctors thought he may have cancer. It didn’t sink in. This was my dad. He was my hero. I still can’t explain how I felt at that moment, because our family had already lost three members to cancer.”

Cancer diagnosis

“Dad went to Scarborough Hospital, where he was put insolation. The whole family was wondering what was going on. Eventually, a doctor came in and asked me to leave. He wanted to speak to my parents in private. Afterwards, mum and dad told me that the tests had revealed he had leukaemia. We were told, although it was cancer, it could be cured, but it would depend on dad’s health. 

One of the options to treat his leukaemia was a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, this couldn’t happen immediately, because dad’s body needed to be prepared for chemotherapy.

Dad had his own room and we had to be careful, because us even having a slight cold - or anything like that - could be dangerous to him. Despite our best attempts, dad picked up an infection when he was out of hospital. It was really bad and wiped out his immune system, but he soon rallied and his body started fighting back.”

Blood stem cell transplant

“Thankfully, dad had a biopsy and went into remission early 2018 and he asked if he’d have to have the bone marrow transplant. The consultant advised him that this would be his best chance at life. However, by this point dad was feeling very well, and didn’t want to spend any more time in the hospital. 

He asked the consultant  if the transplant could be postponed and he was very understanding, and told dad it will always be an available option. I think because dad had been in isolation for such a long time he didn’t want to go back through that. He wanted to have the freedom he’d always enjoyed, so he initially declined the transplant at first.”

Edinburgh Marathon Festival 

“With dad picking up he started preparing for the Edinburgh Marathon Festival in May 2018. He entered the 5k event. Over the next few months I took him out, and we did a lot of training together. His first practice time was over one hour and a half. Dad was a fighter and he had a motto that giving up is never an option. Through sheer grit and determination, he exceeded his own expectations by completing his Edinburgh Marathon run in 34 minutes – he obviously saved his absolute best until the last. 

In August 2018, he entered the Jane Tomlinson 10k race in York. Sadly, he only made it to the six kilometre mark and collapsed. It was horrible seeing my dad, my hero, being carried off in an ambulance. In hindsight, this was a sign that the cancer had returned. A few days after he collapsed, mum and dad renewed their wedding vows at a local church. And a couple of days after this it was confirmed that the cancer had indeed returned. 

Dad was admitted back into hospital for more intensive chemotherapy. In November , he called all the family in, saying he wanted to give up because the treatment he was going through was tough. And after that, literally, his body bounced back up and he started feeling better.”

At this point he decided to go through with the bone marrow transplant and a donor was lined up who agreed to help, but unfortunately was unable to donate at the last minute.”

Second chance

“In February 2019, DKMS found dad another donor. Dad would have a second chance at life. We went to Leeds to have the transplant and everything looked well, his body had reacted positively to it. All the signs were good. 

Sadly, just 40 days after having the transplant, he was called in and told an anomaly had been found and further tests were needed. Unfortunately, the cancer had returned. 

It wasn’t the donor’s fault that it didn’t work for dad. He had such an aggressive form of leukaemia that even the consultants said it was quite a rare one, and dad passed away on the 10th May, roughly six weeks after his terminal diagnosis.”

Humber Bridge Half Marathon

“Sometimes you need something that makes you think and dad’s treatment was just that. I registered with DKMS when dad was diagnosed with leukaemia, and though I had my doubts about doing the Humber Bridge Half Marathon, as I needed to be there for dad. However, once we got the news of his terminal diagnosis, I decided I was going to do it for him. 

It was a really hot weekend, but we were all really grateful that Sunday 29th June was a lot cooler. 

I completed the Humber Bridge Half in 2hr 15 minutes. My mum took part in the two-mile run as well. A mate from work and a family friend were waiting for us at the finish line. I got to the end searched for the faces of my loved ones, and then it really hit me hard that dad was no longer with us.”

Picking up where dad left off  

“Dad inspired so many people. His dream, once he got through his treatment, was to help others going through the same experience. He understood that the treatment was intense, and takes a lot out of you physically and mentally. Dad acknowledged his dark days of feeling lonely and thinking no one was there for him - even though we were. 

Dad’s long battle with leukaemia, and his passing has been difficult, but if I can help save just one person’s life by raising awareness of blood cancer and recruiting new donors, it’s definitely worth it. I know it won’t bring my dad back, but he has always had a passion for helping others and I want to continue that for him.

Dad’s donor gave us extra time with him. It might only have been 12 weeks, but that extra time we had meant so much to us, because you really can’t put a price on life.”

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 potenial lifesaver. If you're not eligible or you're already registered, then consider the other ways you can get involved in the fight against blood cancer or help us donor registration costs.