Ryan joined the Anthony Nolan register in 2015. Working in science, he was aware of how ‘truly magical’ stem cells are and their role in the treatment of cancer, but it wasn’t until this year that he got to be part of the magic himself. In this blog, he shares his story.
Despite coming from a scientific background, stem cells are still spellbinding to me. The fact that my stem cells might be able to help someone overcome cancer? There is no higher calling in my book, and one I enthusiastically picked up the phone to and said “yes”.
What it was like to donate via bone marrow
I was one of the rare folks who got picked for a bone marrow donation. When I told people about this, they assumed I’d be awake for the procedure and be in immense pain, when instead I was blissfully under general anaesthetic for the entire procedure.
The Anthony Nolan team looked after me for the entire donation process. At one point I thought I might have caught COVID-19, which I felt quite ashamed of. As well as being hideously transmissible, the idea that I might have unknowingly jeopardised the recipient weighed on me. But the Anthony Nolan team kept my head on straight and worked with my GP to ensure I was fit to donate. Everything was taken care of. I was taken care of. I luckily didn’t have COVID, and was able to donate.
I spent a couple of nights in hospital and left with a couple of small needle marks in my lower back, which have not hurt since my procedure. For the week after I felt a little sleepy and stiff, with some bruising around the collection site. 10 days after my procedure, I went kayaking, so my ability to milk sympathy from my partner is long gone. Despite sounding dramatic and heroic and arduous, it’s really not, I promise. But even if it were that bad, what a tiny price it would be to give someone a fighting chance against cancer.
It’s a team effort, and what a team to be part of
When I tell people about the donation, I immediately get praise for it, which I don’t really get now I’ve been involved. I’m just a guy with the right key for this particular lock and answered the call when it came.
The heroes are the charity workers and volunteers propping up Anthony Nolan, ensuring these matches can happen every day, and deliver that good news the critically ill have been waiting on. They are the ones who find the key. The heroes are the health care professionals that looked after my recipient (and me!) during a global pandemic. They are the ones who turn the key. Laudation lies with them, but what a team to be a part of.
This process is no more heroic than donating blood when you think about it, however It is so much rarer. There are many hurdles to pass. And that’s why more people should get themselves on the register.
Why I’m telling people to join the register
I was surprised at how under-represented young men were on the register, particularly men from minority backgrounds. I’ve already started chasing up men aged 16-30 to get their sign-up kit. I’ve already got one of my colleagues signed up, and he won’t be the last, I hope.
I’d recommend signing up, not just for the help you’re able to give to someone who is critically ill (and as far as help goes, it is a BIG help - you cannot buy an immune system), but for the feeling it gives you in return.
I know that I was part of the team that gave my recipient a chance. I can’t imagine the hardship they’ve had to endure. The prospect that by doing this, I might have been able to make that hardship become a thing of the past is profoundly heart-warming.
I hope my stem cells treat my recipient well, whoever they are. I hope to hear from them soon if they’re up to it.
Could you be a lifesaver like Ryan?
Aged 16-30? Head to anthonynolan.org/join to find out how you can join the register today.