My journey started during the Covid pandemic. I felt tired all the time and itchy. At first, I put it down to running around after two young children and the uncertainty of the pandemic. I was also grieving the recent loss of my lovely dad.
I noticed a pea-sized lump behind my ear and I developed sinusitis, so I was prescribed antibiotics. Three weeks later, I noticed more lumps in my neck, armpit, underarm and groin. I went for blood tests and to a breast clinic and an ENT clinic; all tests came back clear.
A day trip to Liverpool with my mum and children left me completely exhausted, so it prompted me to contact my GP again. I felt like a time waster, but my GP was incredible and insisted that I have a blood test asap, especially as I was planning to go on holiday to Greece five days later.
The next day, in between packing for my holiday and getting my nails done, I squeezed in my blood test and thought it was going to come back clear like all the others. I received a call from my GP surgery, to attend an appointment the same day with GP. My heart stopped!
I tried to play it cool and not think the worst. As soon as I saw my GP I could tell it was something serious. I remember her saying what do you know about blood cancer? There’s that word: CANCER!
The walk back to the car felt like the longest walk, I could see my husband, thinking what do I say? That same night, I was admitted to hospital where they confirmed my diagnosis: acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and that I would need a stem cell transplant. My world fell apart, I was absolutely terrified.
I started my treatment that day and my first round of chemotherapy a few days later. This is also when my donor journey started, checking first if my brothers matched. Six agonising weeks later, my brother Peter was identified as a 100% match; I felt so lucky I cried.
Five million cells were harvested from Peter on 22 December, whilst he enjoyed his tea, toast and chats with the nurses. After the harvesting, he drove home and could enjoy a drink on Christmas Day.
The transplant day arrived on 12 February arrived. I received loads of messages of support from friends and family and I spent the day with my wonderful nurse Ann-Marie. I watched the lab technician defrost the cells - it was fascinating and incredible.
Now, I’m 17 months post-transplant and still in remission. I still have three rounds of chemotherapy to go and I’m still monitored regularly. I would not have been here if I did not have a stem cell donor, instead I got another Christmas with my family and I’ve been here for two more of my children’s birthdays. I’m turning 40 in a few weeks and I’m able to celebrate it because of the selfless act of my brother donating his cells.
My best friend Jen (holding a glass of champagne in the picture) started a campaign on social media to encourage others to join the register. All my friends and family joined. When people call me they always ask what they can do to help. I tell them to sign up. I was lucky my brother was a match, but there might be someone else who you match with and can give a second chance at life.
Join the blood stem cell registry and help people like Helen who are relying on a match. Just click the red 'Become a donor' button and fill out a quick form to get your swab kit.