When Natasha was a baby, her parents were given the devastating news that she had leukaemia. A stem cell transplant was her only hope of survival. In this blog, Natasha reflects on the the past year and the meaningful choices she has made, 22 years on from her life-saving transplant.
At three months old, on the same day my parents, my sister and I were moving into our first house together, my mother noticed a rash on my legs. She took me to the GP to make sure it wasn’t anything serious and from this point on Anthony Nolan became a huge part of my life.
My only chance of survival
I was immediately rushed to the hospital and after a few hours of waiting for my blood test results, I was diagnosed with two types of leukaemia – Acute Myeloid and Acute Lymphoblastic. My consultant told my parents that this kind of leukaemia could not be cured with chemotherapy alone. A bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor would be my only chance of survival.
Nearly a year later, after having intense chemotherapy which was making me very sick, we got the amazing news that a matching donor had been found. Unfortunately, my first transplant didn't work and the leukaemia returned. My consultant was hesitant to try again with a second transplant, but because of the graft failure (the donors’ cells couldn’t grow and develop properly), they agreed it was worth trying.
Again, they searched the register and luckily Anthony Nolan found another match. We went through the whole process again and when the second transplant went ahead, my parents knew that if this didn’t work it really would be the end of the road.
Thankfully, Anthony Nolan had found my life-saving donor. The transplant worked and apart from a few health issues, I’ve recovered.
I always wanted to give back
After realising what Anthony Nolan had done for me as a baby, I wanted to try and give a little bit back. I started volunteering with Marrow at university and I ran the London Marathon to raise money for Anthony Nolan. I was determined to raise funds and awareness to ensure others can be given a second chance of life.
This year, twenty-two years on from my lifesaving transplant, I applied for a job at Anthony Nolan. I now work in their donor team, supporting potential and existing donors on our register. Joining Anthony Nolan has been such a surreal experience. I have always known that the people who work for this charity are so kind-hearted, so it has been a dream of mine to be a part of their life-saving work.
An inspiring idea
I never had the urge to contact my donor previously but working at Anthony Nolan inspired me to try and contact the stranger that saved my life. I was quite hesitant at first, as I knew the Tracing Team were going to have a tough job trying to find them after so many years had passed.
Amazingly, after a few anxious weeks of waiting, I received an email from a colleague that they had found him. I wrote a letter to him, thanking him for showing up that day in 1998 to donate his bone marrow and told him what a difference he had made to mine and my family’s lives. What I received in return was the most heart-warming letter and I couldn’t be more pleased that I was able to say thank you and tell him what I am doing with my life now thanks to him.
What motivates me now
From this whole experience I want to emphasise how one person really can make such a huge difference. I don’t think the day my donor decided to sign up to Anthony Nolan’s register he knew how much of an impact he was going to make. That’s so exciting, isn’t it? Having the opportunity to save somebody’s life!
Anthony Nolan has facilitated 22,000 transplants since its formation and although I am incredibly lucky to have benefitted from one of these, this is not the case for so many people who need a stem cell or bone marrow transplant.
I would encourage anyone aged 16-30 to consider signing up to their register. You could be that perfect match for someone who is waiting for a life-saving transplant. It’s such a simple thing for you to do with such a huge reward - and I’m proof that it works.
I will never be able to thank Anthony Nolan or my donor enough for what they have done for me. But if I can spread awareness to help this charity carry on their lifesaving work, then I will continue sharing my story with the hope of inspiring others.