But my dad is a fighter. He was given a stem cell transplant, donated by someone on the bone marrow registry and it worked! Someone (all we know is a male in the UK) gave part of himself for us to keep our family together. It was a beautiful thing and if I ever met that man he would get the biggest hug you could imagine from me and the rest of my family!
Because of this amazing gesture, I also signed up to the bone marrow register. I hoped that I might be able to help someone in the way that person had helped us. Incredibly, I was given that opportunity!
In December 2013 I donated bone marrow to an anonymous person with blood cancer. A lot of people recoil when they hear this; the common questions being "Isn't it dangerous?" and "I bet that was painful?" The short answer to both; NO. The other question was about my eligibility; as a gay man I'm arbitrarily prohibited from giving blood, and it surprised a lot of people that I could donate bone marrow. But I can and I did!
Firstly, most of the time people don't donate bone marrow. They donate stem cells (which are made in the marrow) via a clever machine that extracts them from your blood. All you need to do is sit watching telly for a few hours while connected to the machine. Most of the time this is enough for treatment; saving a life for a few hours channel hopping? No brainer!
I was asked to donate bone marrow. Which for some more serious cases is the only way forward, as it's 1000 times more concentrated in stem cells. I admit I was a little hesitant but this wasn't about me; it was about someone in a hospital bed. It was about the family at their bedside. I knew how that felt and I knew I couldn't ignore that.
So donating bone marrow it was. This was to be extracted from my hip bone via my lower back, under general anaesthetic. They needed 2 pints; which sounded like a huge amount to me but apparently it's usual to donate that much.
I'll spare you the details of donating, only saying that it was a pain-free, and included comfortable 2-night stay in a swanky private hospital. I noticed myself getting tired very quickly, and felt generally achy. The best way I can describe it is the feeling of getting out of a car after a long car journey; but it lasting 2 weeks. it's recommended that you have 5 days in bed to recuperate and allow your immune system to build itself back up.
I will admit the aching and fatigue frustrated me a little as it was inconvenient; but in the end an inconvenience for me was a lifeline to someone else.
I sent a "Get well soon" card to my patient (anonymously, via the Anthony Nolan Trust) and after 6 months received a thank you card from my patient. Words cannot describe the feeling of joy that came when reading the words; "I'm looking forward to going back to school, thank you for saving my life".
After my experience I've taken away 3 things.
1- Leukaemia is a scary word, but in many cases it's not the death sentence it once was. A stem cell transplant is a cure that saves lives.
2- It's really easy to donate. Unless you have seriously bad health, there are very few excuses for anyone under 55 to NOT sign up.
3- It is the most important thing I have ever done and ever will do. Someone is alive on this planet because of me.
So if you are reading this and aren't on the register, please please PLEASE consider signing up. You could be someone's last hope!