'I want stem cells to be as available as aspirin' - Peter's story #StemCellAwarenessDay

October 10, 2018
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Peter is married and has two young boys. Two years ago, he found out he had myeloma - a form of blood cancer. A stem cell transplant could save his life but he can't have one without a matching donor, and there isn't one - yet.

For Stem Cell Awareness Day, Peter has shared his story in the hope that more people will join the register - not just for himself, but for all the other people who, right now, are waiting for a lifesaving match.

I still remember the exact spot I was in when I got the call to say they needed to see me. Later, when the doctor sat me down and told me I had cancer, I didn't believe it. I remember saying, "But I'm fitter than I've ever been. I've been doing triathlons. My hair's still here. I'm not losing weight. That can't be right."

The doctor started to explain but I couldn't hear what he was saying. I stood up and said I had to go. He asked if I wanted him to call someone to pick me up and I said no, I just had to get out of there.

Life changed in an instant

The next two days were horrible. I had to tell my parents, had to tell my wife. Night time was hard. You're lying there in the dark, trying to sleep with nothing but your own thoughts - thinking, will I see my kids grow up?

Since then, it's been a constant cycle of chemotherapy, then recovery, then relapse. The treatment hasn't worked as well as the doctors hoped. I need a stem cell transplant, which means that I need healthy stem cells from a donor who's a good genetic match. Without that, I've been told that if I live for another seven years, I'll have done well.

The problem is, there isn't a matching donor on the register - yet.

So, I said, okay, what can I do?

Raising awareness of stem cell donation

Over the past few months, I've been doing everything I can to find a stem cell donor. I like a challenge so I set myself a goal of recruiting 10,000 people to the stem cell register. I've done events and recruitment drives and raised money - with help from my friends and family. If the worst happens, I don't want to be sitting there thinking, "If only I'd done more..."

I have two kids. I want to see them grow up. But whatever happens, it's gone beyond me now. I don't want anyone else to be in this position that I am, where they have to try to find their own donor to have a chance at surviving. That's not okay.

Every 14 minutes someone gets diagnosed with blood cancer. The technology is there to save them. There just aren't enough people who have signed up to donate their stem cells.

I want stem cells to be as available as aspirin. That's the ultimate goal. So that when you get a diagnosis, your treatment is there. If everyone who is eligible was on the stem cell register, that could happen for more people.

I genuinely believe that if people knew about stem cell donation, they'd do it

Cancer transcends everything - race, religion, your bank balance. It doesn't matter where you're from or what you do - whoever you are, right now, within your body, you have something which could save someone's life. Maybe even mine.

I understand people might not want to donate their stem cells and that's fine, but the vast majority of people are willing to do it, once they know about it. We just need to tell them.

Most people don't know how simple it is to donate stem cells - not to mention the impact that it could have on someone's life. That's why I'm out there trying to educate as many people as possible. There's not been one person who hasn't been willing to sign up once I explained it to them.

One lady I met was afraid of needles but when she realised the impact it could have, she said, "Well I won't enjoy the process, but I'm going to do it anyway."

To sign up to the register, all you have to do is swab your cheek. Then, if you're a match for someone, it's a few hours of your time and you can get on with your life as normal.

Every one of us has so many stem cells in our bodies, replacing themselves every day - it's not like giving someone a kidney. For most donors, it's a similar process to giving blood.

It's astonishing. It really is that simple.

As you read this, you could be the match that someone needs

The response I've had just shows how many good people are out there, how many people are willing to help someone. We don't give people enough credit sometimes. We hear so many negative stories, but since starting this, I've already had a couple of people get in touch to say that they signed up, and they've already been called up as a match for someone. That's amazing.

Join the stem cell register today, because you could be a match for someone who needs one right now. You could literally save a life.