As some of you will be aware, Alyson Hume, the mother of Graphite’s Commercial Director, Jon, has been battling blood cancer— specifically myeloma — since 2020. Here, she shares a bit more about her diagnosis, treatment journey, and why registering as a blood stem cell donor is so important.
Every 20 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with blood cancer. Many will search within their own family for a matching person who can donate their blood stem cells, however, only 30% will be lucky enough to find a matching family member.
Every year, more than 2,000 people in the UK are in need of a blood stem cell donation from an unrelated donor, but only six out of 10 patients will find one...
I first started noticing that something was wrong when I was getting puffed out doing short walks. I went to my doctor who ordered a blood test, then he saw me the following week for another blood test and then referred me to the Fernhurst Centre where it was confirmed I have myeloma.
After an initial consultation and a bone marrow biopsy, I was put on a treatment called VTD —Velcade, Thalidomide, Dexamethasone. This entailed weekly VTD injections along with daily tablets and blood thinning injections and was done for six months
In December 2020, I started harvesting my own stem cells. This required another form of chemo and daily injections to stimulate the cells into higher production. I had to make three day trips to the hospital to collect enough stem cells for my transplant, and then spend an additional 2 weeks in hospital having the transplant.
After this main phase of treatment is completed, you come home to recover and to slowly get better. This takes anything up to four to five months to feel something like you did before the treatment.
I can’t remember exactly when I was told I was in remission... I think it was in the second lockdown. I felt happy, but I’d also expected it after two transplants. With myeloma, however, it’s never a full remission, and the doctors can never say how long this status will last.
They are now allowed to use chemo as a maintenance drug so I’ll be taking Lenalidomide until it stops being effective, and then they will look to try something else.
I would say blood stem cell donation needs to be advertised more and that it’s not like in the old days. As someone who’s experienced the process first-hand, giving cells is not painful, and it doesn’t involve as many sessions as it used to. In 90% of cases, donation happens via peripheral blood stem cells, which is similar to blood donation and takes one to two sessions for donors. The other 10% of the time it’s taken from the pelvic bone all in one session. If you can get on the register you are doing a good deed in saving or prolonging someone’s life!
Everyone’s blood cancer journey can be entirely different. It depends on things such as what stage it is at when it is caught, as well as your age and general fitness. Where you live can also dictate what treatments are available and how far you have to travel to receive them, as well as a lot of other factors that affect the treatment regime for each individual.
Despite all these differences in personal experiences and journey, having a good number of blood stem cell donors registered is vital across the board and has the potential to prolong and save the lives of the many people who are suitable for this type of treatment.