George had only been on the register a couple of months when he got the news that he was a potential match. It would be two years until he would know just how much of a difference he made to John and his family. To raise awareness during Blood Cancer Awareness Month, John has shared his story, in the hopes that more people will get the amazing gift that he did – the gift of life.
The moment my life changed
It was May 2017 and I didn’t feel right. I’d been having bad headaches and nosebleeds, so I went to the doctors. Eventually they agreed to do a blood test and said they’d let me know the results in a few days, but they really didn’t think there was anything to worry about. Later that day, I was on my way back from work and they called to say I needed to go to hospital straight away.
When I got there, they said ‘We’re really sorry, you’ve got leukemia. There’s an ambulance outside waiting to blue light you to London.’ I didn’t even get to see my kids to say goodbye. Later, they told me I only had two weeks to live. It was a massive, massive shock.
A glimmer of hope
After I started treatment, they said there was some hope. I responded well enough that I made it past that two weeks, then the next few. I had chemotherapy over a few months – two thirty day cycles – then I had radiotherapy. I’d come home for a few days in-between and for special occasions if I was well enough. I managed to get home for my son’s birthday which was great.
At this point, a stem cell transplant was my only chance of survival but the chances of staying well long enough to get to the transplant were stacked against us. It all relied on finding me a matching donor, so Anthony Nolan started the search.
It was really worrying, that wait, knowing that the transplant was my only hope. It was all so uncertain. It was August when they told me they’d found someone. He was my lifesaver. I remember the moment they told me I had a match. My life felt finished but then, with that glimmer of hope, I could see light at the end of the tunnel. It was just a really special moment. To be told that I had a chance… I could see myself returning home and being a dad to my two kids.
Photo: John having a precious cuddle with his boys in hospital, his future was still uncertain
I feel like the luckiest guy in the world
The transplant wasn’t easy. When you’re sitting in that room, in isolation, with all four walls looking at you and your family so far away, it’s difficult. I’ve had to get through some problems afterwards and I’m still on medication today but I’ve got through the hardest part. Now I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. Because of that transplant, I get to be here and be a dad to my kids.
Every day, I look at life completely differently. I’ve always been very driven to do the best I can for my family but now I’m more inclined to spend time with my family rather than being out chasing an income. Something like this makes you re-evaluate what’s most important.
Meeting my donor was a dream come true
My donor changed all our lives. My kids wrote him thank you cards and drew him pictures. We wrote anonymously for two years and then we got to exchange details at the end of last year. We met George in March this year – thankfully just before lockdown happened. We bought him presents together as a family and wrapped them all up, then me and my wife went to meet him.
When we met I couldn’t believe it was happening, I was so emotional. It was a dream come true. It was so special… you can’t describe it really, but I’ll never forget it. To be able to thank the person that saved your life. I mean, what do you say to them? I’d thanked him so much when we spoke on the phone and he just said, ‘Look, you don’t need to thank me. You’re the one that’s done the hard work.’ But without him, I wouldn’t be here. He’s such a special lad to me. What an unbelievable thing to do – he doesn’t think he did anything that amazing, but if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here. George will always have a special place in our hearts because of what he’s done.
I just want everyone’s lives to be saved
George and I are both so keen to raise awareness. There are people out there who can keep being mums and dads or sons and so on, but without the right donor on the register, it won’t happen.
I hadn’t heard of Anthony Nolan before I was in this boat, hoping they could help me. I hadn’t even heard of leukaemia, that’s how blinkered I was. It was always ‘other people’ who got ill, not me. I just want everyone in the world to know about the register and if people are willing to donate, there will be more happy people walking out of those hospital doors, like I got to. Sadly, not everyone manages to.
That’s why I’d like to do as much as I can to help Anthony Nolan raise as much money as possible, get as many people as possible on the register. I’m really passionate about this. I just want everyone’s lives to be saved.