Sharon, 44, from Northern Ireland originally went to her GP in February this year after feeling tired and run down. The mum-of-three was shocked at her devastating leukaemia diagnosis. Here, she talks about her cancer journey, and looking forward to the future.
“I hadn’t been feeling well since Christmas last year and kept getting chest infections and sinus infections that wouldn’t clear up. As a mum, you just put it down to raising a young family and just get on with things. However, by February, this year I still felt tired and run down. It was at this point that I thought I really couldn’t put it off any further, and saw my GP.
“At most, I thought my blood tests would conclude that I was anaemic. Two days after my GP took blood tests and forwarded them to the labs for testing, he rang me and said to ‘pack an overnight bag and go to A&E.’
“Reassuringly, he told me ‘not to worry, you’ll probably just need a blood transfusion.’ I arrived at A&E and was told by the triage nurse that I should be in the Cancer Centre – this was a shock in itself but I thought that must be where the blood transfusion centre was based. I got back into the car and my husband Alan drove me to the centre. I still thought it was for a blood transfusion!
“I waited there when the consultant said ‘I’m 99.9% sure you have blood or bone cancer, but we can’t confirm this you have your bone biopsy on Monday.’ I was admitted to the Cancer Centre and waited for further tests on Monday. I was dumbstruck, I couldn’t believe it.
“Following the tests, I was told ‘you’ve got acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) – an aggressive cancer and need to start chemotherapy treatment immediately.’ I was stunned into silence. I wasn’t ready for such devastating news. Worse was yet to come - I only had two days for these words to sink in before starting chemotherapy”.
“While at Belfast City Hospital I knew that I had leukaemia and that it was a form of blood cancer, but the word CANCER was hard to say. I thought, why me? A few days ago my life was normal, and now I was being told by my consultant that a blood stem cell transplant would be my best shot at a second chance at life.
“First they were going to check whether my two brothers, John and Christopher, could be my lifesaver. Sadly, they weren’t a match for me.”
“We were all totally devastated by the news that I was a high risk AML patient and would need a donor match for a stem cell transplant as neither of my brothers were a match.
“I had an appointment with the Stem Cell Transplant Hospital (Dublin) in June 2019 and was informed by the Transplant Consultant that it would be hard for me to find a donor match as I had two markers in my blood, which means that the chances of the leukaemia coming back are high.
“All my hopes were shattered that day. I thought there was no hope for me. I went back to Belfast City Hospital after the appointment in Dublin and I was very weak as I’d just completed my second round of chemo - that was a Thursday.
“The next day my cousin searched the internet for any organisation that could help me find a match. It was then that she contacted DKMS. They told her that six in 10 people in the UK successfully find a match from an unrelated stranger. So she asked for their help in matching me with a stranger, willing to be my blood stem cell hero.”
At this point, the search didn’t reveal a match. I had to have repeated doses of chemotherapy, but this would not be enough to save my life. I urgently needed a match.”
“DKMS worked really hard to help my appeal. They provided my family and friends with the support to sign up over 4,000 people at donor registration drives in Northern Ireland. The charity urged people to support me, and the other 2,000 in the UK searching for a matching stem cell donor each year.
My campaign really started to take off. Friends were telling me that they were seeing the story being shared all over social media. Then, to my surprise, I received some hard-hitting support from boxing champion Carl Frampton.”
“A few months ago, I received a phone call to say that a 90% match had been found for me. I was overjoyed. However, this has all been thanks to friends and family, and selfless people like you. You’ve given me a future with my husband and our beautiful boys. I’ve still got a very long way to go and my life is very different to what it was this time last year, but I can see light at the end of the tunnel and I’m extremely thankful that I’m still here.”
There are survivors because there are lifesavers. One day, you just might be the lifesaver someone is urgently looking for.
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?