'Life begins at 40'
After I was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2014, I didn’t just feel shocked. I felt numb. I’d just turned 40 and everyone was saying: ‘Life begins at 40’. But instead, my life had suddenly taken this unexpected turn and my whole future was in doubt.
I was so lucky that Anthony Nolan found four people who were 10/10 matching stem cell donors for me when they searched their register. I was excited when they confirmed a donor. But at the same time, I was so unwell. I was just living minute to minute, hour to hour. I couldn’t even hold a pen or string a sentence together at that point.
During your treatment, you don’t really think properly. Nothing seems real. Thankfully, my stem cell transplant was able to go ahead the following November – and it was a success. But it wasn’t all rosy after my transplant. I was exhausted and slept around 20 hours a day. I developed severe infections, pneumonia and secondary lymphoma – where the leukaemia cells spread, meaning I had to go back into hospital for treatment.
The long road to recovery
It was only once my condition began to improve, that I started to process the psychological side of my transplant. Over time, I found that harder than the physical side, and I thought about how the transplant had affected my life. In isolation, I lost connections, my routine, my body’s functions. I didn’t feel like the same person and had to grieve for the ‘me’ that I’d lost.
The turning point came from Hayley, my Anthony Nolan Clinical Nurse Specialist. As well as helping me with my physical recovery, she helped take the weight off my shoulders. She really supported me and I could laugh through the difficult times with her.
I have good days and bad days still. But the future is far brighter now. Thanks to my transplant, I’ve been able to welcome my two beautiful grandchildren into the world. And I’ve now celebrated my fifth ‘birthday’ post-transplant. My grandson recently turned five and he hated it because I joked to him that I get more birthdays than he does!
I’ve been to the ends of the earth, to hell and back, and now I know what’s important. Making good memories with my family and my grandchildren.
I can’t say my transplant was easy, but it’s given me the chance to live, to grow and enjoy life, and I’ll always be grateful.
If you or someone you know is going through a stem cell transplant, you can get support and information from our wonderful Patient Services team.