Four years ago, I was sat in a school assembly hall, receiving an empowering presentation about the Anthony Nolan Trust, a charity which procures people aged 16-30 to sign up to a stem cell donor register and connects patients suffering from blood cancer with donor matches around the world. Although I was moved by the presentation, it felt a bit intangible and I didn’t really understand the importance of becoming a donor. Truthfully, I only spat in a test tube and signed my signature because I didn’t want to be the only selfish person out of a room of 100 who didn’t.
Fast forward three years to December 2017 and I received an email saying I was a match for a patient of blood cancer. Having been told it was a 1 in 10,000 chance of being someone’s match, it felt a little surreal. Although I hadn’t joined the register motivated by intense passion, I accepted the call to be a donor feeling quite impassioned. The process from being identified as a match on the register to completing the donation lasted 8 months. I first had to send 10 test tubes of blood so the lab could triple check that myself and the patient were definitely a match (it would cause the patient real harm to receive incompatible stem cells). Thereafter, I needed to undergo a medical exam to ensure that the procedure would have no adverse effects on me. Before the donation I needed to receive four injections of a special drug which mobilises stem cells. If I could produce 100,000 stem cells on my own, this drug allowed me to create 1,000,000 a day. Due to the velocity at which stem cells were being produced and mobilising from my bones, I had a little bit of pain along my pelvic bones and thighs.
I donated by the most common method, PBSC. This entails having one needle and tube in each arm, one to collect blood and take it to this big fancy machine which spins the blood to separate out and collect the stem cells, then another needle and tube in the other arm which returns to the blood. I was connected to this machine for around 13 hours over two days and lost only four teaspoons of blood in total! The sensation was a bit funny at first as one hand was immobile but it wasn’t painful. I was also able to do whatever I wanted so did a bit of (half-hearted!) dissertation reading and watched a lot of Netflix.
I don’t know anything about the patient other than they are an adult male but in two years time, if we both choose to allow it, I can find out if the donation was successful and learn more about the patient.
I would highly recommend signing up to the register: the whole process of the donation was no burden at all and the procedure wasn’t particularly painful. Whether the donation is successful or not, in my opinion is irrespective – I have given someone a chance to live a life without cancer. It couldn’t be simpler: spit in a test tube, get hooked up to a machine for two days and give someone a chance at life.
For more information about Anthony Nolan and to sign up to the register, visit www.anthonynolan.org