Image of Helen and her family at the harbor

How my brother saved my life

Become a donor

Helen's story

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.

Blood test result confirmation

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!

Helen sitting by a hospital bed
Peter donating his stem cells

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!

Peter (left) next to his mum and Helen, with other brother Michael on the right.

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.

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Brother donates his stem cells

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.

Image of Jen and Helen

Post-transplant and onwards

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.

How you can help

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.

Ready to become a potential lifesaver? Join the register now