'When I found out that gay men could donate stem cells, I signed up immediately.' - Paul's story

August 22, 2019
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After losing a close friend to blood cancer, Paul joined the stem cell register and has since donated twice to give someone a second chance of life. He’s also run the Great North Run – twice! – for Anthony Nolan and continues to raise awareness, particularly among the LGBT+ community, to dispel myths about donating. Here, he shares his story.

When I found out that gay men could donate stem cells, I signed up immediately

As a gay man I never believed that I would be able to donate my stem cells, as gay people are unable to donate blood. When Anthony Nolan were at an event, back when I was at college, that myth was shattered, and I was only too happy to provide them with a simple mouth swab. My main motivating factor was a close friend who died of blood cancer when I was in my 20s.

I never thought that I would get the phone call to say I was a match for someone. When I found out I was I match I felt like I could really make a difference and potentially save someone’s life. It never crossed my mind not to go ahead and donate.  It’s amazing to think such a pain free procedure could make a huge difference to somebody’s life. 

Donating is easy, and it gives someone a second chance of life

The whole process from start to finish is easy and I couldn’t have been more looked after. After the initial call and confirming I was a match, I had a medical where I had blood tests, and I had a painless chest x-ray and ECG. You get to talk with a doctor before the donation, so you can go through any queries or worries you may have. Anthony Nolan covers all the travel and pay expenses, so I wasn’t ever out of pocket!

I had an injection on each of the four days leading up to the donation. A nurse actually comes to your house or work, so it doesn’t inconvenience you. These injections encourage the production of stem cells in your body and they were painless. The side effect for me was some slight muscle pain, but this is nothing compared to what the people needing our stem cells will be experiencing.

On donation day I was very well looked after by a great team of nurses. I donated through the blood stream – like 90% of donors - and the process was pain free. I was given some calcium in tablet form, as sometimes levels can drop during the procedure, but I was closely monitored throughout. I also had an endless supply of hot tea and biscuits – not bad, eh? And surely doing all this is small price to pay if it means a person gets a second chance of life, or extra time with their loved ones?

The second time I was a match, I donated my stem cells through the bone marrow – again I was very well taken care of before and after the procedure, and it was pretty painless. Again, a small price to pay for the impact you will have!

Saving lives in other ways

Saving lives isn’t just about donating your stem cells. Since becoming a donor, it’s driven me to want to help in other ways. I ran the Great North Run twice for this amazing charity, and raised £1500. That’s enough to put 38 potential lifesavers on the register – it costs Anthony Nolan £40 to sign someone up.

I also want to keep raising awareness, which is why I shared my donation story. I believe we all need to spread the word, especially in the gay community.

Please add your name to the register and tell people about it. It really will make a massive difference. And if you can’t donate, why not join me in fundraising? Together, we can save more lives.

We are looking for more young men to join the Anthony Nolan stem cell register. If you are between 16–30, and in good health, visit anthonynolan.org/join to find out more.